Port-wine stains are red or purple marks, often on the face. They are caused by a localised area of abnormal blood vessels. Treatment with lasers can give good results although complete clearance is rare. Treatment in early childhood is best. Camouflage creams are an alternative treatment.
A port-wine stain is a red or purple mark on the skin. It is usually present from birth. About 3 in 1,000 babies are born with a port-wine stain. Most occur on the face but any area of the skin can be affected.
Port-wine stains affect males and females equally. They are not hereditary.
Port-wine stains vary in size from a few millimetres across to many centimetres. Their colour can vary from pale red to deep purple. If left untreated, port-wine stains tend to darken over the years as the blood flow through them becomes more sluggish. The overlying skin is smooth and flat at first. By middle age the overlying skin can become thickened and lumpy (a cobblestone-like appearance).
The pictures show a rather large port wine stain in a baby and a smaller one in an adult. Notice the colour is much lighter in the baby compared to the adult as port wine stains tend to darken with age.
A port-wine stain is a localised blood vessel problem. The tiny blood vessels (capillaries) in port-wine stains remain dilated (wide). It is like a permanent localised blush. The reason why this occurs is thought to be due to a damaged or faulty nerve supply to the affected tiny blood vessels. The nerve impulses that make the blood vessels narrower are lost so they then stay wide all the time.
Although the vast majority of port wine stains are present at birth, they can occasionally develop later on. It is thought that long-term exposure to ultraviolet light or other types of skin damage may be the cause.
Apart from their appearance, no other symptoms or problems occur in most cases.
However, about 1 in 10 babies born with a port-wine stain on the face has problems of the eye or brain.
The majority of children with port-wine stains do not have these complications.
Port-wine stains are usually diagnosed on sight as their appearance is so typical. Occasionally scans and other tests are required to rule out some of the other complications such as brain and eye involvement.
Port-wine stains may improve with time but never disappear completely. Laser treatment is usually the treatment of choice for port-wine stains, especially in children.
Treatment with a laser leads to variable improvement. A special fine laser can destroy the tiny widened blood vessels. Laser treatment may not clear the port-wine stain completely and repeat treatments are often needed over the years to come. Features of laser treatment include the following:
This is still a common way of covering port-wine stains. Special coloured cover creams can be put on port-wine stains to improve the skin's appearance. The aim is to find a colour to match the normal skin. Some cover creams can be prescribed on the NHS. Camouflage creams can disguise port-wine stains very well which may greatly increase self-confidence. The British Red Cross provides a free Skin Camouflage Service (see below). After advice and instruction, many people become very quick and skilled at putting on camouflage creams each day.
BM The Birthmark Support Group, London, WC1N 3XX
Tel: 0845 045 4700 Web: www.birthmarksupportgroup.org.uk
Offers information and support to anyone affected by a birthmark (including port-wine stain).
British Red Cross Association, British Red Cross, 44 Moorfields, London, EC2Y 9AL
Tel: 0844 871 11 11 Web: www.redcross.org.uk/What-we-do/Health-and-social-care/Social-support-in-the-UK/Skin-camouflage
Aims to teach how to apply camouflage creams effectively.