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port wine stain

Alternative Names
naevus flammeus

A port wine stain is a type of birthmark. It is an irregularly shaped, reddish, flat area of blood vessels on the surface of the skin.

What is going on in the body?
The cause of port wine stains is unknown. They occur in about 3 out of 1000 births. At first, port wine stains are flat. Over time, lumps and bumps can occur on the surface of the birthmark.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
Port wine stains are flat, reddish birthmark that generally occur on the face, but may involve any part of the body. Most port wine stains generally have no other symptoms.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?
In a small number of cases when a person presents with a port wine stain on the face this can be a part of Sturge-Weber syndrome. This syndrome also involves problems with blood vessels in the eyes and brain.

What can be done to prevent the condition?
There are no ways to prevent port wine stains.

How is the condition diagnosed?
Port wine stains are diagnosed by examination. A doctor may look for signs of a broader disease that may be related to the port wine stain.

What are the long-term effects of the condition?
If they are left alone, port wine stains will become thickened over time.

What are the risks to others?
Port wine stains are not contagious.

What are the treatments for the condition?
Laser surgery can be done to close off blood vessels supplying the port wine stain. This kind of treatment should be used when the port wine stain is still flat, before it becomes thicker.

What are the side effects of the treatments?
Bruising and discolouration can occur right after laser treatment. Repeated treatments are usually needed.

What happens after treatment for the condition?
There is a variable clearance of the port wine stain. Some people respond very well to treatment while others have very little improvement.

How is the condition monitored?
Monitoring is based on appearance alone, unless the port wine stain is part of some other underlying condition.

Author: Lynn West, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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