When Your Child Has Sturge-Weber Syndrome (SWS)
Sturge-Weber syndrome (SWS) causes a pink or purple birthmark called a port-wine stain on the face. Abnormal blood vessels form on the surface of the brain on the same side as the port-wine stain. This can lead to complications such as seizures, increased pressure in the eye (glaucoma), or developmental delay. Your child’s health care provider will tell you more about your child’s condition and treatment options for your child.
What Are the Causes of SWS?
SWS is a neurological disorder present at birth (congenital). There is no known cause. It can occur by chance in any child.
What Are the Symptoms of SWS?
Symptoms usually appear in early infancy. These can include:
Port-wine stain birthmark on the face, from light pink to deep purple in color, usually over the forehead and one eye
Convulsions or seizures
Muscle weakness in the affected side of the body (hemiparesis)
Problems with learning, reasoning, behavior (developmental delay)
Increased pressure in the eye
How Is SWS Diagnosed?
The appearance of the port-wine stain birthmark is often the first clue that your child may have SWS. Your child will likely see a pediatric neurologist for diagnosis and treatment. This is a doctor who specializes in neurologic problems in children. He or she may perform the following:
Neurologic exam to check how well your child’s nervous system is working. During the exam, the doctor checks your child’s muscle strength, balance, coordination, and reflexes. He or she also checks skills such as thinking, memory, vision, or hearing.
Imaging tests, such an MRI or CT scan, to show detailed pictures of the brain and check for abnormal blood vessels.
How Is SWS Treated?
Treatment for SWS varies depending on your child’s symptoms. Possible treatments include:
Cosmetic surgery or laser treatment to minimize or remove the birthmark.
Surgery to treat complications such as seizures or glaucoma.
Medications to treat seizures or glaucoma.
Special education to help manage symptoms of developmental delay.
Supportive care, such as speech, physical, or occupational therapy.
What Are the Long-term Concerns?
SWS is a lifelong condition. But your child can learn ways to manage symptoms and be as active and independent as possible. Regular visits to the doctor are recommended to check your child’s health and to perform routine testing. If your child has seizures or glaucoma, medications may need to be taken daily.
Coping with Your Child’s Condition
A positive outlook helps while supporting your child. Encourage your child to be active and to try new things. Consider counseling, which can help you and your child deal with any worries or concerns. And seek help from friends, community resources, and support groups. The more you learn about your child’s condition and its treatments, the more in control you may feel. For more information about SWS, start by contacting The Sturge-Weber Foundation at www.sturge-weber.org.