Port Wine Stain Syndrome

by Sam Malone

A port-wine stain refers to a birthmark caused by swollen blood vessels in the skin. It leads to a discoloration of the skin that usually remains throughout life. These marks commonly develop on the face, but may also occur on other parts of the body.

Port wine stains initially appear pinkish, but take on a purplish or dark reddish color as the child grows. In adulthood, they may also become thick and take on a lumpy appearance. In some cases, port wine stains are indicative of Sturge-Weber syndrome or Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome.

The exact cause of the blood vessel malformation is uncertain. This is not an inherited condition and also does not relate to the pregnancy. Port wine stains are found to be more common in girls.

In some cases, port wine stains may lead to deformity and further disfigurement. Stains that occur around the eyelids may be associated with glaucoma, in which case an eye doctor needs to examine the eyes. Treatment for glaucoma involves the use of eye drops or in some cases, surgery. In cases where port wine stains occur as part of a syndrome such as Sturge-Weber syndrome, there may be symptoms of neurologic problems.

A doctor usually diagnoses port wine stains based on their appearance. A skin biopsy may also be needed. For stains in the area of the head, an MRI scan of the brain may be needed to look for signs of Sturge-Weber syndrome. If the stains are present inside the mouth, the doctor may examine the child's throat to check for abnormal growths.

Treatment for port wine stains is usually started in the child's first year. Laser treatments help to destroy the affected capillaries without damaging the surface of the skin. This treatment is done over a series of sessions that continue for a few years. In case the skin thickens or develops lumps, a different type of laser treatment or surgery may be necessary. Older port wine stains are sometimes difficult to treat. Also, blemishes on the face are more responsive to laser treatment than those on other areas of the body. It is advisable to protect the treated areas from the sun as they may turn darker in strong sunlight. The use of sunscreen or protective gear such as a hat or umbrella is helpful in protecting exposed areas of the child's skin.


  1. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001475.htm

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