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DERMNET NEW ZEALAND   (www.dermnetnz.org)
copy of sheet reviewed Jan 2006


Capillaritis is the name given to a harmless skin condition in which there are reddish-brown patches caused by leaky capillaries. It is also known as pigmented purpura.

The capillaries are small blood vessels near to the skin surface. For unknown reasons they sometimes become inflamed. Blood cells may pass through small gaps that arise between the cells, which make up the capillary walls. The result is tiny red dots appear on the skin, described as cayenne pepper spots. They group together to form a flat red patch, which becomes brown and then slowly fades away over weeks to months.

Schamberg's purpura
Close-up of lower back
Lichen aureus



The cause of capillaritis is usually unknown. Occasionally it arises as a reaction to a medication, a food additive or a viral infection. Capillaritis may develop after exercise.

Clinical features

There are several descriptive types of capillaritis. They are often named after the dermatologist who first described them

  • Schamberg's disease (progressive pigmented purpura).
    This is the most common type of capillaritis. Crops of red-brown flat patches with cayenne pepper spots on their borders appear for no apparent reason. Although most common on the lower legs, Schamberg's can arise on any part of the body. It is usually irregularly distributed on both sides with few or many patches. There are no symptoms.
  • Itching purpura.
    This appears similar to Schamberg's disease, but itches.
  • Gourgerot-Blum (pigmented purpuric lichenoid dermatosis)
    This form of capillaritis is less common. The patches are thickened and itchy, rather like eczema.
  • Majocchi's purpura (purpura annularis telangiectodes).
    In this condition there are dilated capillaries as well as brown patches and cayenne spots. The patches gradually spread outwards.
  • Contact allergy.
    Capillaritis has been reported to be due to khaki clothing dye and rubber. It only affects skin in contact with the responsible material.
  • Lichen aureus. Lichen aureus is a solitary brown-yellow patch that is very persistent. It often overlies a varicose vein.


There is no known cure for most cases of capillaritis. It can disappear within a few weeks, recur from time to time, or frequently persist for years.

  • Consider if a medication could be the cause: discontinue it for several months to find out if the capillaritis improves
  • Try avoiding food preservatives and artificial colouring agents. Return to a normal diet if there is no improvement after several months.
  • Topical steroids can be helpful for itching but rarely clear the capillaritis.
  • If the lower leg is affected, consider wearing graduated compression elastic hose.
  • Currently available lasers are not particularly helpful for this condition.

Related information



North East Valley Division General Practice, Victoria, Australia, Disclaimer 
Level 1, Pathology Building, Repatriation Campus, A&RMC, Heidelberg West VIC 3081. .. map
Phone: 03 9496 4333, Fax: 03 9496 4349,  Email: nevdgp@nevdgp.org.au
Please note: NEVDGP does not provide an on-line consultation

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