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Sturge-Weber Syndrome


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision May 2020| Content last modified May 2020
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What is Sturge-Weber syndrome?

Sturge-Weber syndrome is a birth defect of small blood vessels.

  • Sturge-Weber syndrome causes a birthmark on the newborn's face

  • Most babies also have a blood vessel tumor (angioma) in the tissue covering the brain

  • Over time, children usually develop worsening eye and brain problems

  • Treatments can improve the appearance of the birthmark, and medicines can help some eye and brain problems

What causes Sturge-Weber syndrome?

Sturge-Weber syndrome is caused by an abnormal gene. This gene was accidentally damaged when the baby was still in the womb. The abnormal gene isn't inherited from the parents.

Abnormal blood vessels that grow on the face cause a red or purple birthmark. Abnormal blood vessels that grow around the brain can cause brain damage or a stroke.

What are the symptoms of Sturge-Weber syndrome?

Babies have a birthmark on their face. The birthmark is usually on one side of the forehead and upper eyelid but may appear anywhere on the face. It's sometimes called a port-wine stain because the color ranges from light pink to deep purple.

In addition to the birthmark, the disorder can cause:

  • Weakness on one side of the body

  • Difficulty seeing

  • Difficulty learning and thinking

  • Increased pressure in the eye (glaucoma) and sometimes the eye bulges out

  • Increased chance of a stroke during childhood

How do doctors know if my child has Sturge-Weber syndrome?

Doctors suspect Sturge-Weber syndrome in children who have the typical birthmark.

The doctors may order an MRI of the brain (a scan showing detailed pictures) to check for blood vessel tumors in the tissues covering the brain.

How do doctors treat Sturge-Weber syndrome?

There's no cure for Sturge-Weber syndrome. Doctors treat the symptoms:

  • Medicines or surgery to control the seizures

  • Medicines or surgery for glaucoma

  • Aspirin in low doses to reduce the chance of a stroke

  • Laser treatment to lighten or remove the birthmark if desired

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