Port-wine Stain - Causes and Symptoms

Authored by Dr Oliver Starr, 15 May 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr Helen Huins, 15 May 2017

A port-wine stain is also called a naevus flammeus or, more commonly, a firemark. It is almost always a birthmark. It is caused by abnormal development of tiny blood vessels.

  • Usually port-wine stains are found from birth in newborn babies. They are formed because the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) in the skin are too big (dilated).
  • Normally we have microscopic nerves that keep the blood vessels small (constricted) most of the time. This keeps skin cool and pale usually.
  • In port-wine stains the nerves that control the blood vessels don't work properly, so they are permanently dilated. The result is that the skin looks red when it shouldn't.
  • Usually the redness is in a patch on the face, neck, scalp or upper chest.
  • Generally speaking, port-wine stains are just random events and there isn't anyone else in the family who has one.
  • About 1 in 300 newborns have a port-wine stain. That is fairly common. In rare cases it can develop in early childhood. But you might not see too many people with them, because some patches might be small and barely noticeable. Some people might have had them treated at a young age and the red colour has faded away, or they may be using camouflage products to cover them up.
  • Generally the only symptom of a port-wine stain is the appearance.
  • They are not painful or itchy.
  • A port-wine stain is treated in case the appearance of it could upset the child as they grow up.

Further reading and references

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