Port wine stains are vascular malformations that usually affect the face or neck, though they may appear in other areas. Present at birth, they typically begin as flat, irregular, pinkish stains, but may darken to red or purple later in life. The mark itself results when abnormal blood vessels allow blood to collect in a concentrated area. During infancy, port wine stains are sometimes mistaken for strawberry hemangiomas (hee-Man-jee-OH-muhz), but unlike strawberry marks, port wine spots won't fade on their own. Without treatment, the lesion may enlarge and eventually take on a bumpy, grape-like texture. Fortunately, thanks to laser technology, port wine stains can now be treated with greater effectiveness and less scarring. The preferred instrument is usually a yellow, pulsed-dye laser which targets the dark pigment in the veins, causing the blood to coagulate and destroying the abnormal veins. As the area heals, newer and smaller blood vessels take over and the dark coloring typically fades. Several treatments over a period of time are generally required for best results. While the laser may not remove all traces of the stain, about 75 percent of patients experience a significant improvement. In some cases, follow-up treatments may be needed if the mark returns.
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