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Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

Capillary Malformations


Capillary malformations are slow-flow vascular malformations which usually occur on the skin as a red-coloured vascular stain. Sometimes they appear on mucosal surfaces (such as the inside of the mouth).  Capillary malformations are the commonest vascular malformation and are often referred to as "port-wine stains" (the colour may be similar to that of "port wine").  They often occur on the face.

A capillary malformation. This malformation can also be seen on the roof of the mouth

Like all vascular malformations, capillary malformations are present at birth and persist throughout life.  The colour and texture of a capillary malformation, however, may change.  Most capillary malformations  occur on their own.  Occasionally, they may occur in association with certain vascular malformation syndromes, such as Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome and Sturge-Weber Syndrome (SWS).  SWS is a syndrome made up of a facial capillary malformation, and vascular malformations involving the covering of the brain surface and the eye.  Some reduction in brain tissue with calcification can be seen beneath the underlying brain surface vascular malformation.  Klippel-Trenaunay Syndrome is a slow-flow complex combined vascular malformation where capillary, venous and lymphatic malformations occur in association with increased growth (enlargement) of the affected body part.  Most commonly, Klippel-Trenaunay Syndrome occurs in one leg although it can affect the abdomen, chest, arms or several body parts. 

A capillary malformation of the skin or mucosal surfaces will not threaten life.  


The diagnosis of a capillary malformation is made from the patient history and physical examination.  No radiological imaging is needed to asses a capillary malformation in the skin.  MRI scanning is used in patients with Klippel-Trenaunay Syndrome and Sturge-Weber Syndrome to assess the associated vascular malformations.  


Patients with capillary malformations as part of  Klippel-Trenaunay Syndrome are cared for in the KTS clinic.  All other patients with capillary malformations (including those with Sturge-Weber Syndrome) are cared for by the Dermatology Clinic.  

If treatment of the capillary malformation is indicated, pulsed dye laser therapy may be considered.  This is undertaken via the Dermatology Clinic.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Can capillary malformations be surgically removed?

Capillary malformations affect the small blood vessels in the skin, often involving a significant amount of skin.  Surgical removal of a large area of skin would not be advisable for many patients.  If a patient with a capillary malformation requires treatment, then laser therapy may be considered.  Occasionally, some patients choose to use a camouflage cream to provide temporary cover of the vascular stain.  

Is a capillary malformation considered a disability?

A capillary malformation may or may not be considered a disability.  The Dermatology clinic will provide you with more information.

How can I deal with my capillary malformation at school?

If your capillary malformation affects your ability to write, use a keyboard or move between classes in the allotted time, it is encouraged that you speak to someone at your school about this. A school may make arrangements to accommodate you and may require a medical note.  

After the age of 18, where are patients with capillary malformations treated?

When you reach 18 years of age, if your care needs to be continued, the Vascular Anomalies Clinic or Dermatology Clinic will arrange transfer of care to an adult clinic in Toronto.