A port wine stain is a vascular birthmark that resembles wine spilled across the skin. It is a relatively rare condition that is apparent at birth and only occurs in about three out of every 1,000 children. Port wine stains typically appear on faces, arms and legs but can appear anywhere on the skin of the body. They are not harmful and in the vast majority of cases, do not indicate an underlying health concern. The main concern for many with port wine stains is the emotional and psychological impact of the stain especially when it is located on the face.
A port wine stain is relatively uniform in its characteristics though it changes in shape and location from person-to-person. Signs to look for include:
In adults, a port wine stain can begin to take on a bumpy, “cobblestone” appearance.
As vascular birthmarks, port wine stains are related to the blood vessels in the body. A gene mutation in the person with a port wine stain prevents blood vessels from turning themselves “off” during their development, causing the skin to appear wine colored. There is no known cause for this genetic mutation. Port wine stains are also not the result of any behaviors on the part of a mother during pregnancy. In about 3% of cases, the same mutation that causes a port wine stain can cause Sturge-Weber disorder, a neurological condition.
Laser treatment performed with a pulsed dye laser is currently the most prevalent treatment for port wine stains. This laser treatment can fade the birthmark but may also help reduce the chances that “cobblestones” can appear as the person ages. Treatment with lasers typically takes several sessions. The first session is often used to test a patch of skin to determine how the patient will react to the treatment.
All cases of port wine stain are not the same, therefore we recommend seeing a specialist to help determine which treatment option is the best for you.