Port-wine Birthmarks: Update on Diagnosis, Risk Assessment for Sturge-Weber Syndrome, and Management

Pediatr Rev. 2022 Sep 1;43(9):507-516. doi: 10.1542/pir.2021-005437.


Sturge-Weber syndrome (SWS) is a neurocutaneous disorder that classically presents with a triad of vascular anomalies affecting the skin, eyes, and brain. Previously, the trigeminal nerve distribution of a port-wine birthmark (PWB) of the face was used to identify risk of SWS. However, recent evidence has demonstrated that PWBs are vascular, not neurologic, in embryologic origin, and facial PWBs at highest risk for the brain involvement of SWS involve the forehead location. Furthermore, a PWB involving the upper or lower eyelid carries a risk of glaucoma, which requires lifelong monitoring. The gold standard of treatment for PWB is the pulsed dye laser, which has many advantages when started as early as possible in infancy. In this review, we discuss the locations of facial PWBs at risk for neurologic and ophthalmologic complications, the differential diagnosis of facial vascular birthmarks, recommendations for patient referral(s) when needed, and the advantages of early laser therapy when desired for the PWB. We also provide additional resources for pediatricians to support patients and their families.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Glaucoma* / etiology
  • Humans
  • Port-Wine Stain* / complications
  • Port-Wine Stain* / diagnosis
  • Port-Wine Stain* / therapy
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sturge-Weber Syndrome* / diagnosis
  • Sturge-Weber Syndrome* / therapy