What is a capillary malformation?

A capillary malformation is an overgrowth of the smallest blood vessels, known as capillaries. These generally appear as a red discoloration of the skin without any raised component or texture difference at birth. Small, symmetrically distributed capillary malformations on the mid-face (i.e. angel kiss) and the nape of the neck (i.e. stork bite) often fade over time. Larger capillary malformations are sometimes called “port-wine stains.” Port-wine stains tend to grow as the affected person grows.

What should I expect to happen to my capillary malformation?

Most capillary malformations are isolated anomalies, meaning they are not associated with any other medical problems. Small capillary malformations on the mid-face, eyelids, and nape of the neck frequently fade with time. Larger port-wine stains tend to become darker in color and raised in texture over time. There can be associated overgrowth of the soft tissue and bones of the mouth and cheek when a large port-wine stain involves the face. This overgrowth of tissue can lead to problems with the teeth and gums. Sometimes port-wine stains can be associated with underlying problems with the muscles, bones, eyes, and brain. Sturge-Weber syndrome is characterized by a port-wine stain on the face with associated glaucoma of the eye and underlying abnormalities of the brain frequently leading to seizures. There are many other rare disorders which have a port-wine stain on the skin.

How is a capillary malformation, such as a port-wine stain, diagnosed?

A capillary malformation including a port-wine stain can usually be diagnosed clinically.

How is a capillary malformation treated?

Capillary malformations are typically treated with a laser, such as a pulsed dye laser, which targets and treats blood vessels in the skin. When a capillary malformation is associated with a syndrome or underlying medical problems, treatment is complex and should be determined by a multidisciplinary team of specialists that includes plastic surgeons, dermatologists, ophthalmologists, radiologists, and other specialists, depending on what organs are involved.