Capillary malformation (port wine stain)

Capillary malformations, or port wine stains, consist of dilated capillaries in the skin. This condition is the most common type of vascular malformation. It presents as a flat pink or purple colored lesion on the skin, usually on the face or neck. It is usually referred to as a port wine stain because of its color. The color may change from pink in childhood to red in early adulthood and, sometimes, to deep purple in middle age.

This condition is present at birth. The color of the malformation may darken in an infant or a child when they cry, have fever, or are overheated.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of why a capillary malformation occurs is not known, but it is thought that it arises because of abnormal formation of the tiny blood vessels of the skin early in the life of the embryo.

Symptoms and Types

The main symptom is the presence of a port wine stain.

Diagnosis and Tests

Children born with a capillary malformation may also have abnormalities in their veins and lymphatic system. This condition can be associated with Sturge Weber Syndrome, Parkes Weber syndrome and Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome.

Treatment and Care

Your infant may need to see a variety of specialists. Your pediatrician can advise you.

Some guidelines:

  • Consult a doctor or team of doctors specializing in the evaluation and treatment of vascular anomalies
  • In about 10 percent of patients, the risk of glaucoma (an eye condition that can cause blindness if not treated properly) increases in patients whose malformation involves certain nerves of the skin.

Laser Treatments

  • Laser treatments can be used to reduce the color of the port wine stain. It is important to ensure the surgeon uses a particular type of laser, a pulsed-dye laser (PDL).
  • Some studies indicate that treatment started earlier in life may get better response. The response also depends on where the stain is located on the head and the neck. Smaller lesions respond better. 

Living and Managing

A capillary malformation can sometimes cause psychological issues for children, particularly if it is on the face. Laser treatments can be used to reduce the color of the stain. Another option is to cover it with cosmetics. Surgery may be indicated to remove the lesion.