Port Wine Stain: A-to-Z Guide from Diagnosis to Treatment to Prevention

Port wine stains are present at birth. Although they may fade some, typically a port wine stain is permanent unless treated. It is not a type of hemangioma.

It does almost look as if some dark red wine has stained the skin. While an obvious port wine stain did not stop Mikhail Gorbachev from becoming president of the Soviet Union, many families don’t want their port wine stains to remain so obvious.

What is it?

A port wine stain, or nevus flammeus, is a birthmark consisting of malformed, dilated blood vessels in the skin. It is not a type of hemangioma.

Who gets a port wine stain?

Anyone can be born with a port wine stain. They occur in 1 in 200 to 400 babies.

What are the symptoms?

These are flat, dark red patches, most commonly found on the face or limbs. They tend not to cross the midline. Usually they are not associated with other symptoms. However, port wine stains around the eye suggest that glaucoma may develop in that eye. Also, port wine stains on the eyelid or forehead sometimes signal a similar stain in the brain (Sturge-Weber syndrome). Other syndromes may be associated with port wine stains, but they are usually suggested by other symptoms that are obvious.

Is it contagious?


How long does it last?

Port wine stains are present at birth. Although they may fade some, most port wine stains are permanent unless treated. Sometimes they get darker and more textured over time.

How is it diagnosed?

The diagnosis is usually made by the physical appearance. Physicians should consider possible associated syndromes, including Sturge-Weber syndrome, Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, Beckwith-Weidemann syndrome, Bonnet-Bechaume-Blanc syndrome, Cobb syndrome, and Proteus syndrome.

How is it treated?

Treatment is for cosmetic, social, and psychological benefit. Depending on the birthmark and the setting, this may be very important, or not important at all.

Laser treatment (such as the flashlamp-pumped-pulsed dye laser) can be very effective. Some families choose masking make-up, skin grafts, tattoos, or cutting out the birthmark. Some choose no treatment at all.

How can it be prevented?

There is no effective prevention for port wine stains.

Nevus Flammeus

Last medical review on: October 29, 2013
About the Author
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Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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