Port Wine Stains In Babies: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

Port Wine Stains In Babies

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A port-wine stain birthmark, also known as nevus flammeus, is a congenital vascular malformation of the skin. It affects three to five children per 1,000 live births and results from the concentration of dilated tiny blood vessels called capillaries.

Although it is not a cause for concern in most cases, it is good to get your baby’s port-wine stain birthmark evaluated, as approximately 15-20% of children with this type of birthmark around the eye are at risk of developing Sturge-Weber syndrome (1).

Read this post on the symptoms, complications, and treatments for port-wine stain birthmarks in babies.

Signs Of Port-Wine Stain Birthmarks In Babies

As the name suggests, port-wine stain birthmarks look like maroon wine splashed on the skin. These generally appear at birth and are often seen on the face, neck, arms, and legs. In some rare cases, they continue to grow as the child grows.

Here are a few signs that might help you identify port-wine stain birthmarks in your baby.

  1. Looks flat and pink, red, or purple
  2. Maybe confined to an area or cover larger areas of the body, usually seen on one side of the body
  3. Doesn’t change color when gently pressed
  4. Might get darker or thicker as the child grows older
  5. Is persistent and does not disappear over time (2)

Causes Of Port-Wine Stain Birthmarks In Babies

The exact cause of port-wine stain birthmarks is not known. However, it is believed to be caused by a mutation (change in gene) causing and abnormal formation of tiny blood vessels in the skin. It is also believed that these develop during the first two to eight weeks of pregnancy (3) (4).

Complications Of Port-Wine Stain Birthmarks 

Like any other birthmark, port-wine stain birthmarks are usually harmless and are rarely associated with any underlying issue. However, in some rare cases, this birthmark could be associated with Sturge-Weber syndrome. The condition is often characterized by symptoms such as seizures, glaucoma, cerebral cortex atrophy, headache, developmental delays, and intellectual impairments. Children who have port-wine stain birthmarks covering half of the face or more are at a higher risk of developing this condition (5) (6).

It could also be associated with Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, a condition that affects the development of blood vessels and soft tissues (7).

Apart from the physical complications, port-wine stain birthmarks may also cause mental health issues as the baby grows up due to the disfigurement that it causes. They may feel low self-esteem and can even go into depression, fearing rejection.

Diagnosis Of Port-Wine Stain Birthmark

The doctor would be able to diagnose port-wine stain birthmarks via a physical examination. But, if the birthmark is present around the eye or on the face, the doctor might monitor it. They may order tests such as X-ray, CT scan, or MRI.

Treatment For Port-Wine Stain Birthmark In Babies

Generally, port-wine stain birthmarks may not need treatment. However, if the stains cover a large area of the body, or you feel it is necessary to get them removed, laser treatment is the best available option.

Laser treatment can be started by the time your baby is six months old. Talk to your pediatrician before starting the treatment.

This birthmark tends to get dry, so it is important to apply a moisturizing cream once or twice a day (8).

Port-wine stain birthmarks are common in babies and are not a cause for concern in most cases. However, if you notice these birthmarks around your baby’s eyes or if the birthmarks are large, consult your baby’s doctor.


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1. Vi Nguyen et al.; The Pathogenesis of Port Wine Stain and Sturge Weber Syndrome: Complex Interactions between Genetic Alterations and Aberrant MAPK and PI3K Activation; International Journal of Molecular Sciences (2019).
2. Birthmarks in Infants; Stanford Children’s Health
3. Port Wine Stain Birthmark; Vascular Birthmarks Foundation
4. Port-wine stain; National Institutes of Health
5. Kira Minkis, Roy G. Geronemus, and Elizabeth K. Hale; Port Wine Stain Progression: A Potential Consequence of Delayed and Inadequate Treatment?; HHS Author Manuscripts (2015).
6. Types of Birthmarks in Children; NYU Langone Hospitals
7. Port wine stains; Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children
8. Port wine stains; The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne