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All About Birthmarks

Birthmark Exams and Treatment
Some birthmarks fade with laser treatments much like those used to remove tattoos.
Some birthmarks fade with laser treatments much like those used to remove tattoos.
Dan Callister/Getty Images

Birthmarks rarely point to problems requiring medical treatment. However, doctors do like to monitor some types of marks.

When investigating a birthmark, doctors perform a physical examination of the spots. If the spot raises any suspicion, your doctor may take a series of pictures over time to see how the marks might change in size or shape. Your doctor may also order tests of internal organ function to see if there are any symptoms that may be related to the marks. For more answers, doctors might also employ MRI, ultrasound or biopsy tests.

Vascular birthmarks are often more responsive to treatment than pigmented marks. Doctors generally don't treat macular stains, simply because they lighten with time. Because port-wine stains and obvious hemangiomas often make children self-conscious, doctors treat them to alleviate the child's social distress.

Doctors often use a series of laser treatments to help fade port-wine stains. The treatments often begin during infancy to increase their effectiveness. The success of these treatments varies widely, and some patients see their stains return to dark blotches as years go by.

Hemangiomas tend to shrivel without medical intervention. Large hemangiomas, especially those near the eyes where they block vision, need treatment. Surgery is one option, but a regimen of steroids is often more effective and far less invasive.

Doctors usually do not treat pigmented birthmarks. However, large moles may be a precursor to skin cancer, so surgery may reduce a patient's risk of developing melanoma. Even with surgery, though, very large moles may be difficult to remove completely.

As with port-wine stains, laser treatments sometimes work for café-au-lait marks. These also resist lasers and can become highly visible again later in life.

Barring surgery, lasers, and other medical procedures, some people resort to basic means when disguising their birth marks. Sometimes a change in hair style or makeup application helps conceal the mark from curious onlookers and helps a patient feel more at ease in social situations.

Of course, most people would prefer to simply prevent birthmarks from the beginning. There's just one problem -- science currently has no means to prevent these spots from occurring.