Vascular Lesions FAQs

General FAQs
  • Q1 :

    What is a port wine stain?

  • A port wine stain (naevus flammeus) is a red or purple birthmark which affects about 3 out of every 1000 babies. It is a type of blood vessel birthmark which presents at birth as a uniform flat red, purple or pink mark on the skin, often on one side of the body, usually the face. They are congenital overgrowths of small blood vessels in the skin. Port wine stains are twice as common in girls as boys, and they may darken with age, thicken with raised bumps (papules) or ridges and increase in size proportionally to the child's growth. They grow with the individual and do not improve over time. They can occur on any part of the skin surface but cause most concern when they affect the face.
  • Q2 :

    What are the causes of port wine stains?

  • Port wine stains are caused by an abnormal development of blood vessels in the area of the skin where they are present. They are not inherited and are not related to anything that the parents may have done during pregnancy.
  • Q3 :

    What causes the splotches of skin pigmentation that are commonly known as birthmarks? Why do they persist on one area of the skin?

  • Birthmarks fall into two major categories: vascular lesions, which are spongy and consist of blood vessels, and non-vascular pigmented lesions.

    Vascular lesions are caused by abnormal development of blood vessels in the skin. Although they are usually present at birth, they may also develop later in life. They may also appear suddenly, persist for a while, and then disappear again. This can happen when the body is going through a big physiological change, such as puberty or pregnancy.

    As with pigmented birthmarks, there are various different ways in which vascular malformations are presented. The two most common forms are port wine stains and venous plexi  intricate networks of veins. Port wine stains are pinkish-red and flat, and may darken in colour to a purple colour several years after birth. They are usually found on the face, but may occur anywhere on the body, and they persist for life, although they can be treated by surgery or laser therapy. They may even grow larger and more conspicuous later in life, darkening, thickening or forming vascular bumps. Those that occur on the face may be associated with eye or brain problems. Venous plexi are thin and light blue, and may be flat or raised.

    Haemangiomas are a third type of vascular lesion. They may develop after birth and consist of many tiny blood vessels bunched together. Haemangiomas occur in up to 2 per cent of newborns, but as many as 12 per cent of babies develop them by age one. Interestingly, they are more common in girls. Haemangiomas may change in size, and most disappear completely by age 10.