Sturge-Weber syndrome

Alyssa M Day BA (Ms. Day of the Sturge-Weber Syndrome Center at the Kennedy Kriger Institute has no relevant financial relationships to disclose)
Anne M Comi MD (Dr. Comi, Director of the Sturge-Weber Syndrome Center at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, has no relevant financial relationships to disclose.)
Michael V Johnston MD, editor. (

Dr. Johnston of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Chief Medical Officer at Kennedy Krieger Institute has no relevant financial relationships to disclose.

Originally released April 13, 1994; last updated October 8, 2017; expires October 8, 2020


Sturge-Weber syndrome is a neurocutaneous disorder that presents with a facial capillary malformation (port-wine birthmark), abnormal blood vessels on the surface of the brain (leptomeningeal angioma), and glaucoma. The discovery of the underlying somatic mosaic mutation in GNAQ is leading the way to a new understanding of pathogenesis and potential treatment strategies. Sturge-Weber patients frequently develop seizures, focal neurologic impairments, visual problems, and cognitive deficits. Early diagnosis is key to providing optimal care of complications. In this article, the author summarizes research into the pathophysiology of this unique disorder and explains the most current diagnosis and treatment approaches utilized at the Hunter Nelson Sturge-Weber Syndrome Center at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

Key points


• Sturge-Weber syndrome brain involvement requires an MRI with contrast.


• Sturge-Weber syndrome (and isolated port-wine birthmarks) is caused by a somatic mutation in the GNAQ gene.


• Prolonged and frequent seizures in infants and young children contribute to neurologic decline.


• Low-dose aspirin has been shown to decrease the frequency and severity of seizures and stroke-like episodes in Sturge-Weber syndrome.

Historical note and terminology

Schirmer first identified an association between bilateral facial angiomatous nevus and bilateral buphthalmos (eye enlargement) (Schirmer 1860). In 1879 Sturge described a relationship between facial and ocular angiomatous lesions and cerebral pathology that led to focal seizures, as well as hemiparesis contralateral to the facial angioma (Sturge 1879). Kalischer provided neuropathological confirmation of the cerebral lesions (Kalischer 1897). In 1922 Weber noted intracranial calcifications (Weber 1922), which were also reported by Dimitri in 1923 (Dimitri 1923).

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