Birthmarks

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Birthmarks are blemishes on the skin that are noticeable at birth, or shortly afterwards. A significant proportion of newborns have a vascular birthmark, a red, pink or purple blemish that is caused by abnormal blood vessels under the skin.

Types of birthmarks

  • Café au lait spot - usually oval in shape, with a light brown or milky coffee color. They are either present at birth or occur soon afterwards. As the individual gets older they do not fade. Some people may have one or two, but more are possible.
  • Congenital melanocytic nevus - It can occur in any part of the body; in some cases the marks are on the head and neck. In fair-skinned individuals it usually has a light brown color, while in darker-skinned people it may be almost black. It can have an irregular shape, may be flat, or raised and lumpy.
  • Mongolian spots - blue-gray marks commonly seen in darker skinned people. The mark may look like a bruise and appear over the lower back or buttocks. By the time the child is about 4 years old they have faded away.
  • Hemangiomas - usually a red and raised mark, such as a strawberry mark. Most of them start off as small and flat. It is impossible to know whether they might grow later on. Usually, they grow quickly during the baby's first four or five months of life, then the growth slows down and many eventually fade.
  • Telangiectatic nevus also known as a salmon patch, stork mark/bite - caused by expansions in the tiny blood vessels. They are patches of slightly reddened skin. A salmon patch on the face is often called an angel kiss, and a stork bite/mark when it appears on the back of the neck. Angel kisses will usually fade within a couple of years.
  • Port wine stain - red or purple marks that commonly affect the face, but may occur anywhere, caused by abnormal bleeding of blood vessels in the affected area. If left untreated they may eventually get darker.
  • Silver mark - known to be hereditary; a silver streak of hair, usually found at the right or left side where the forehead and hairline meet. Commonly, other family members also have a silver mark.

What causes birthmarks?

An over-accumulation of cells that make up the lining of the baby's blood vessels are believed to cause the development of strawberry marks. In some cases, experts believe that a tiny piece of placenta may have got lodged inside the developing embryo very early during pregnancy.
Salmon patches are caused by an accumulation of capillaries under the skin.
Some experts believe that some proteins produced by the placenta during pregnancy may be linked to a higher risk of developing some types of birth marks.

What are the complications of birthmarks?

The vast majority of birth marks pose no long-term health problems to the child, many of them eventually fade away.
Some types of melanocytic nevi may develop into malignant cancers.

What is the treatment for birthmarks?

A significant number of birthmarks fade away without any need for treatment. However, if the birthmark causes health problems, or if the patient feels strongly about getting rid of it, the doctor may recommend treatment.

There are some medications that may be taken orally or as an injection to either stop the birthmark from growing or to shrink it.
Laser therapy may be used to treat port wine stains and other birthmarks that are close to the skin's surface.

Treatment options depend on several factors, including the location and severity of the birthmark.

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