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Port-Wine Stains

( Nevus flammeus )

En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition | Causes | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention


A port-wine stain is a mark that is usually present at birth. It is made of enlarged blood vessels. This makes it appear as a reddish-purple patch of skin.

Port-wine stains are generally harmless. They may cause emotional and social problems due to their visibility.


Port wine stains are caused by a problem with the small blood vessels in the skin. Blood vessels can normally open and close to meet the needs of the skin. In port wine stains, the blood vessels stay wide open. Blood fills the vessels causing the purple color and raised skin. It is not clear what causes the problems with the blood vessels.

Risk Factors

There are no known risk factors for port-wine stains.

Conditions associated with port wine stains include:

  • Sturge-Weber syndrome
  • Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome


Symptoms include a mark that may be:

  • Reddish or purplish in color in adults
  • A flat, red or light purple lesion in children
  • Raised in adults
  • On the head or neck
  • Bleeding when scratched
  • Dark and thick over time

A port-wine stain near the eyes may cause other problems.


A port-wine stain can typically be diagnosed based on its appearance. In some rare cases, a skin biopsy may be done.

Since some stains may also be associated with other medical conditions, your doctor may order other tests to look for any of these related conditions.

Skin Biopsy

Skin proceedure
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:

Laser treatment may be used to destroy the blood vessels causing the stain. There are some risks with laser treatment. It may result in scarring and skin lightening or darkening.

Flash-lamp pumped pulse dye laser is one type used with port wine stains. Multiple treatments may be necessary.

Other treatment options include freezing, surgery, tattooing, and radiation. These treatment have had limited success. Lasers have replaced most of these treatments.


Port-wine stains cannot be prevented.


American Academy of Dermatology


Vascular Birthmarks Foundation



Canadian Dermatology Association



Alster TS, Tanzi EL. Combined 595-nm and 1,064-nm laser irradiation of recalcitrant and hypertrophic port-wine stains in children and adults. Dermatol Surg. 2009 Jun;35(6):914-918.

Jasim ZF, Handley JM. Treatment of pulsed dye laser-resistant port wine stain birthmarks. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007 Oct;57(4):677-682.

Port wine stain. Nemours KidsHealth website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/heart/port_wine_stains.html#. Updated March 2009. Accessed August 5, 2013.

Port-wine stain information. Vascular Birthmark Foundation website. Available at: http://birthmark.org/node/23. Accessed August 5, 2013.

Port-wine stain treatment. Duke University Medical Center website. Available at: http://www.dukehealth.org/services/dermatology/treatments/port_wine_stain_treatment. Accessed August 5, 2013.

Last reviewed August 2013 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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