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Port-Wine Stains( Nevus flammeus )

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 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 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
  • Raised in adults
  • A flat, red, or light purple lesion in children
  • On the head or neck
  • Prone to bleeding when scratched
  • Dark and thick over time

A port-wine stain near the eyes may cause additional symptoms.


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

Skin Biopsy

Skin proceedure

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

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 Treatments

Other treatment options include freezing, surgery, tattooing, and radiation. These treatments 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

Health Canada


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.

Laser and non surgical enhancements. Duke University Medical Center website. Available at: Accessed June 8, 2015.

Port wine stain. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: Updated September 2013. Accessed June 8, 2015.

Port-wine stain information. Vascular Birthmark Foundation website. Available at: Accessed June 8, 2015.

Last reviewed June 2015 by Fabienne Daguilh, 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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