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Port-Wine Stains

(Capillary Malformation; Nevus Flammeus; Stork Bite)


Denise M. Aaron

, MD, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center

Last full review/revision Sep 2020| Content last modified Sep 2020
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Port-wine stains are flat pink, red, or purplish discolorations present at birth due to malformed blood vessels.

Port-wine stains are harmless, permanent discolorations. However, their cosmetic appearance may be psychologically bothersome or even devastating. They appear as flat pink, red, or purple patches of skin. Port-wine stains may be small or may cover large areas of the body. Port-wine stains that appear on the nape of the neck of newborns have been referred to as stork bites.

Rarely, facial port-wine stains appear as part of Sturge-Weber syndrome, a rare disorder present at birth that is associated with neurologic problems such as seizures and intellectual disability.

Some port-wine stains can be covered with cosmetic cover-up cream. If a stain is bothersome, its appearance can be greatly improved with laser therapy (see sidebar Using Lasers to Treat Skin Problems), especially if the stain is treated as early in life as possible.


Using Lasers to Treat Skin Problems

A laser is a device that produces an intense beam of light that has one particular color (wavelength). Laser light does not affect human tissue until it is absorbed. Whether tissue absorbs laser light depends on the tissue and the color of the light. For example, blood vessels absorb yellow, blue, and green light best, so lasers of these colors are used to selectively target blood vessels in the treatment of vascular growths. Other colors are used to target different conditions. Laser beams may be continuous or briefly pulsed in individual flashes. The pulse duration helps determine the effect of the laser beam.

Laser treatments are sometimes combined with photodynamic therapy, in which certain light-absorbing chemicals are applied to the skin or given by vein (intravenously). When these chemicals are struck by laser light, they absorb the laser energy and help destroy tumors.

Blood vessel growths, such as hemangiomas, and malformations, such as port-wine stains, may be treated with laser therapy. Laser therapy is also used to remove unwanted hair, tattoos, skin discoloration, scars due to acne, or sun damage.

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