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What is a Port-Wine Stain?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A port-wine stain is a type of congenital birthmark which is caused by a vascular malformation, meaning that it is the result of an unusual growth of blood vessels. Port-wine stains are also sometimes referred to with the term “naevus flammeus.” Depending on the location of a port-wine stain, it may be perfectly harmless, or it may lead to complications later in life. In some cases, the birthmark is also a sign of a more serious underlying condition which needs to be addressed.

These birthmarks are a form of hemangioma, a mass of blood vessels which grows close to the skin, causing a dark mass to appear. In childhood, a port-wine stain is often very subtle, appearing as a vague area of discoloration, but the birthmark will darken with age, often turning a deep red or purple, like the port wine it is named for. In some cases, a port-wine stain may even become rough or bumpy, in which case steps may be taken to reduce or remove it.

The best treatment for port-wine stains appears to be lasering, which can be quite effective, especially when performed on a young person. The darker the stain, the less effective lasering appears to be. Port-wine stains can also be removed surgically, although this is generally reserved for especially unsightly port-wine stains, as it requires a great deal of careful work. If left alone, a port-wine stain will simply grow with the body, turning darker with time; in some cases, it may impair the function of facial muscles, although this is relatively rare.

Some people feel that port-wine stains are unsightly, and especially large stains can certainly attract attention, especially since this birthmark is commonly found on the face. For someone with a port-wine stain, the birthmark may feel disfiguring, or lead to discomfort in social situations. For this reason, some people choose to pursue treatment so that they have a more conventional appearance. Others may choose to embrace the abnormality as a visible mark of their differences from others.

Around one in 500 babies is born with a port-wine stain, and sometimes the birthmark is so subtle that it takes a few months or years to appear in noticeable form. It is important to have any birthmarks evaluated, to ensure that they are not symptoms of a condition which might require treatment. Likewise, any radical change in the appearance of a port-wine stain is cause for a doctor's visit, as indeed any abrupt change in the skin should be.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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