Port Wine Stains (PWS)

Port-wine stains are red or purple marks, often on the face, caused by a localised area of abnormal blood vessels (capillaries).

What is a port-wine stain?

A port-wine stain is a red or purple mark on the skin. 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.

What do port-wine stains look like?

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.

What causes port-wine stains?

A port-wine stain is a localised blood vessel problem. The tiny blood vessels (capillaries) in port-wine stains remain wide (dilated). The reason why this occurs is thought to be due to a damaged or faulty nerve supply to the affected tiny blood vessels. Although the vast majority of port wine stains are present at birth, they can occasionally develop later on. Possible causes include long-term exposure to ultraviolet light, other types of skin damage and changes in hormone levels.

What are the symptoms of port-wine stains?

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 have problems of the eye or brain. The majority of children with port-wine stains do not have these complications.

What is the treatment for port-wine stains?

Port-wine stains may improve with time but never disappear completely. Laser treatment is usually the treatment of choice for port-wine stains.

Laser treatment

Treatment with a laser leads to variable improvement. A special fine laser can destroy the tiny widened (dilated) 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:

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