( Nevus flammeus )
A port-wine stain is a birthmark that causes a reddish-purple patch of skin. The birthmark is composed of enlarged capillaries, which give it the distinctive color.
Port-wine stains usually occur at birth and are typically initially flat, and may become darker and raised as the child ages. The birthmarks are typically found on the head and neck, but may occur anywhere on the body.
Acquired port wine stains may occur at an older age and may be caused by a traumatic injury. This is extremely rare.
Port-wine stains may cause emotional and social problems due to their cosmetic appearance.
Port-wine stains may be a single finding or be associated with visual, nervous system, or skeletal abnormalities.
When not associated with other conditions, port-wine stains are benign (harmless) abnormalities of the blood vessels in the top portion of the skin.
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. There are no known risk factors for port-wine stains.
A birthmark that is:
- Reddish or purplish in color (in adults)
- Flat, red or light purple lesion (in children)
- May be raised in adults
- Typically occurs on the head or neck
- May bleed if scratched
- Darkens and may become thicker with age
Port-wine stains can typically be diagnosed based on its appearance. In some rare cases, a doctor may request a skin biopsy to confirm a diagnosis of a port-wine stain.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:
Lasers destroy the tiny blood vessels in the port-wine stain. Risks of treatments include scarring and skin lightening or darkening.
Flash-lamp Pumped Pulse Dye Laser
Flash-lamp pumped pulse dye laser is considered the treatment of choice for port-wine stains. The laser is directed to the blood vessel. Multiple treatments may be necessary. To decrease pain associated with laser treatment, topical or local anesthesia may be used. Systemic anesthesia may be used in infants.
Other treatment options include freezing, surgery, tattooing, and radiation, but these have had limited success. Lasers have replaced many of these treatments. New, promising laser options are being studied.
American Academy of Dermatology
Vascular Birthmarks Foundation
Canadian Dermatology Association
Duke aesthetic services: port-wine stain treatment. Duke University Medical Center website. Available at: http://www.dukehealth.org/Services/Aesthetics/Procedures/SkinImprovements/PortWine. Accessed April 15, 2007.
Jasim ZF, Handley JM. Treatment of pulsed dye laser-resistant port wine stain birthmarks. J Am Acad Dermatol . 2007 Oct;57(4):677-82.
Port-wine stain information. Vascular Birthmark Foundation website. Available at: http://www.birthmark.org/port_wine_stains.php. Accessed April 15, 2007.
Last reviewed November 2008 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © 2007 EBSCO Publishing All rights reserved.