What is a hemangioma?

A hemangioma is a type of birthmark comprised of blood vessels.  Hemangiomas may be present at birth (faint red mark) though most appear days to weeks after birth.  The majority of hemangiomas occur in the head or neck area but can occur anywhere. Hemangiomas occur three-five times more often in females than in males.  They are also more common in low birth weight infants and with twins or triplets.

What is the difference between a hemangioma and a vascular malformation?

Most hemangiomas are usually not present at birth or are very faint red marks. Shortly after birth, however, they grow rapidly – often faster than the child’s growth. Over time, they become smaller and lighter in color. This process may take several years. There are rare cases of congenital (present at birth) hemangiomas.

Vascular malformations are congenital (present at birth) and enlarge proportionately with the growth of the child. They do not lighten or shrink spontaneously and may become more apparent as the child grows.

What causes hemangiomas?

The cause for hemangiomas is usually sporadic and occurs by chance. The lesions appear to be due to differences in blood vessel development. Genes may play a role in the occurrence of these lesions.  Hemangiomas may occur in association with other physical findings.

What should I do if my child has a hemangioma?

It is best to seek the care of a specialist to help guide you and your child’s primary care physician in your child’s care.

Treatment for Hemangiomas

Treatment for hemangiomas depends upon their size, location and severity. Even though hemangiomas may disappear over time, hemangiomas that cause bleeding problems, feeding or breathing difficulties, growth disturbances, impairment of vision, or may be in areas that are cosmetically sensitive, such as the face, may benefit from early treatment.

Treatment may include the following:

  • Medical therapy such as steroids or propanolol
  • Laser surgical removal
  • Embolization of the blood vessels (injection of material into the blood vessels to block the blood inflow)