Vascular Birthmarks

What Is It?

A vascular birthmark is a discoloration of the skin that is caused by blood vessels that don't form correctly. They are present at birth or appear shortly after birth. There are three major types of vascular birthmarks:

  • Salmon patch (nevus simplex) is a flat patch of pink or red skin, often small, usually with poorly defined borders. Salmon patches may be seen in as many as 1 out of every 3 newborns. They typically are found at the nape of the neck ("stork bite"), on the forehead between the eyebrows ("angel's kiss") or on the eyelids. Often, they are more noticeable during crying or changes in temperature.

  • Strawberry hemangioma is a raised bright red spot, often small, usually soft and compressible, with well-defined borders. It occurs most commonly on the face, scalp, chest or back. It may be present at birth but more often appears during the first one or two months of life. Strawberry hemangiomas occur in 1% to 3% of infants. In rare cases, they interfere with vital organs or are associated with life-threatening complications.

  • Port-wine stain (nevus flammeus) is a flat patch of purple or dark red skin, often large, usually with well-defined borders. It usually is on one side of the face or neck and is present at birth. (Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union, has a port-wine stain on his forehead.) Port-wine stains affect less than 1% of infants. In rare cases, they are associated with other abnormalities.

Symptoms

Vascular birthmarks are painless and usually don't cause any symptoms other than the skin discoloration.

A strawberry hemangioma may cause other symptoms if its location interferes with a vital organ. For example, a lesion on the neck could press down on the trachea and interfere with breathing, and a hemangioma near the eye or on the ear could limit vision or affect hearing.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »