A practical approach to the diagnosis, evaluation, and management of cutaneous small-vessel vasculitis

Am J Clin Dermatol. 2014 Aug;15(4):299-306. doi: 10.1007/s40257-014-0076-6.


Cutaneous small-vessel vasculitis (CSVV) is a disorder characterized by neutrophilic inflammation predominantly limited to the superficial cutaneous postcapillary venules. CSVV may be idiopathic or may have a defined cause such as infection, medication, connective tissue disease, or malignancy. CSVV may also be associated with extracutaneous disease or systemic vasculitis. The most common clinical presentation of CSVV consists of symmetrically distributed palpable purpura of the lower extremities. In general, lesional skin biopsy samples should be examined with light microscopy and direct immunofluorescence for adult patients with suspected CSVV. A complete history, review of systems, physical examination, and selected laboratory studies also should be performed to assess for inciting causes or extracutaneous involvement of CSVV. Treatment varies and depends on the chronicity of CSVV, the severity of cutaneous involvement, and the presence or absence of both an underlying cause and extracutaneous involvement of CSVV. An isolated episode of CSVV associated with a known inciting factor may be managed by removal or treatment of the trigger, along with symptomatic measures. First-line systemic treatments for chronic, idiopathic CSVV include colchicine or dapsone, used singly or in combination. Recurrent, chronic, or severely symptomatic CSVV that does not respond to the aforementioned therapies may require initiation of an immunosuppressive agent such as azathioprine, mycophenolate mofetil, methotrexate, cyclosporine, or rituximab.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biopsy
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique, Direct / methods
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Lower Extremity
  • Recurrence
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Skin Diseases, Vascular / diagnosis
  • Skin Diseases, Vascular / pathology
  • Skin Diseases, Vascular / therapy*
  • Vasculitis, Leukocytoclastic, Cutaneous / diagnosis
  • Vasculitis, Leukocytoclastic, Cutaneous / pathology
  • Vasculitis, Leukocytoclastic, Cutaneous / therapy*


  • Immunosuppressive Agents