What are Vascular Birthmarks?

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  • Written By: Henry Gaudet
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2018
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Vascular birthmarks are lesions in the skin, causing discoloration ranging from pink or red to purple and may or may not be raised. As the name implies, vascular birthmarks are visible at birth or within the first few weeks of the child’s life. There are several different kinds of birthmarks, some more serious than others. The lesions may require medical treatment, but in many cases, observation is sufficient.

What exactly causes vascular birthmarks is unknown. They do not, however, appear to be related to any action on the part of the mother during pregnancy. Heredity is not a factor in creating these birthmarks, either.

Hemangiomas, commonly called strawberry birthmarks, occur near the surface of the skin, resulting in a raised, red area. They appear within the first few weeks of birth. These birthmarks can also occur deeper in the skin, appearing purple like a varicose vein. Though consultation with a dermatologist is still recommended, these birthmarks are notable in that they disappear – a process called involution – by the time the child turns seven or eight years old, typically with no treatment required at all.

Occasionally, hemangiomas do require treatment. In their initial growth phase, they may grow so rapidly that ulcerations occur. The location of the vascular birthmarks may interfere with breathing, feeding, or other crucial body functions. A rare variation called Kaposiform Hemangioendothelioma can cause serious complications due to bleeding.


When treatment is required, it usually takes the form of topical ointments and oral steroids. Surgery is also an option, not only in cases where breathing, feeding, or sensory ability is affected, but also to avoid scar tissue left behind when the hemangioma fades. While radiation, interferon, and cytotoxic drugs have been used to treat hemangiomas in the past, the invasive nature of their use makes them less suitable tools for treatment.

The port-wine stain – also known as the nevus flammeus – which appears as a pink, red, or purple discoloration, is another type of birthmark, distinct from the hemangioma. These vascular birthmarks do not disappear as the child matures. Instead, they grow with the child, becoming thicker and often changing in texture, and are permanent.

Port-wine stains, especially those appearing on the face, can have a severe impact on an individual’s self-image. The ability to function in social settings, including a workplace, is also affected. In addition, facial port-wine stains are linked to increased incidences of glaucoma and seizures. Blebs – small growths on blood vessels which are prone to bleeding – can also appear over time on these birthmarks, though these are easily removable by a doctor.

Removal of port-wine stains by various medical procedures attempted over the years has been largely unsuccessful. Make-up remains a common treatment for these birthmarks. Laser surgery, while not a cure, can cause port-wine stains to fade significantly for most patients during a series of treatments, though not for all.



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