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What is Hemangioma?

A hemangioma [hi-man-jee-OH-muh] is a mound of blood vessels in the body. It used to be called a “strawberry birthmark,” but it’s not a true birthmark Hemangiomas are sometimes called tumors, but are not cancer and are usually harmless.

Hemangiomas may look alarming, but are usually not dangerous to your child’s health. They often grow quickly, but get smaller later and often disappear completely.

A hemangioma that occurs near your child’s eyes, nose, mouth, or throat, may need to be treated to prevent problems with breathing, eating, or seeing. 

Symptoms

The main symptoms of a hemangioma are:

  • A red to reddish-purple, raised lump on the skin.
  • A large, raised lump made of blood vessels. It may have a blue hue

Your child may have one or both kinds of symptoms in the same hemangioma.

Most hemangiomas are on the face and neck, but they can appear anywhere on a child’s body. Most children have only one, but in rare cases they will have several scattered around their body. In very rare cases, a child may have many hemangiomas on their face and upper body. In these cases, they may also have hemangiomas on the organs inside the body, and your child’s doctor will want to do tests to check.

Although they are rare, hemangiomas can cause some complications, including

  • Bleeding (especially if the hemangioma is injured)
  • Problems with breathing and eating
  • Psychological problems caused by skin appearance
  • Secondary infections and sores
  • Visible changes in the skin
  • Vision problems 

When to See a Doctor

Although most hemangiomas are not dangerous to your child, some can present health risks. Sometimes they make parents or children concerned about their appearance. If you see symptoms of hemangioma, see your child’s doctor.

If your child has already been diagnosed with a hemangioma, follow your doctor’s instructions for follow-up care. If the hemangioma starts to bleed or develops a sore, call your doctor.

Causes

Doctors are not sure what causes hemangiomas.

Some babies are at higher risk for developing hemangiomas than others. They appear three times more often in female babies than male babies. Caucasian (white) babies are more likely to get hemangiomas, as are premature babies.

Diagnosis and Tests

Most hemangiomas can be diagnosed by a doctor during a physical exam. If the hemangioma is small, or if it isn’t located near any vital organs, no further testing may be necessary.

If your child’s doctor thinks that your child may have a buildup of blood vessels deeper inside their body, they may order a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imagery (MRI) scan. Both these scans can create a picture of the inside of your child’s body.

A hemangioma may occur with other rare conditions. If the doctor thinks this might be the case, additional testing or a referral to a specialist may be recommended.

Treatments

Most hemangiomas will not require any treatment.

Not all hemangiomas are harmless, though, especially if they occur near the eyes, nose, mouth, or throat. Also, large hemangiomas on exposed areas of the body can cause embarrassment for children, and treatment can be considered. In those cases, treatment may include:

  • Medicines. Several kinds of medicines can be used to treat hemangiomas, the first of which is usually steroids [STARE-oyds]. Steroids are used to shrink the blood vessels, which reduces the size of the hemangioma. If steroids don’t work, doctors can try other medicines.
  • Laser treatment. A special laser may be used by a dermatologist [der-muh-TOL-uh-jist] to try to stop the growth, diminish its size, or lighten its color. The laser only goes a few millimeters into the skin, though, so it cannot treat deeper parts of the hemangioma. Also, ask your doctor if this treatment should be done sooner rather than later, because some dermatologists suggest that laser treatment is more effective early in the growth of a hemangioma.
  • Cryosurgery. A dermatologist might also use liquid nitrogen cryosurgery to freeze some of the cells in the hemangioma.
  • Surgery. Surgery is very rare as a treatment for hemangioma, and doctors will only suggest it if your child’s health or vision is in immediate danger, if watching and waiting (for 2–3 years) has been ineffective, or if other treatments have had no effect.

Doctors will often use a combination of treatments, such as steroids plus laser treatment to treat both the size of a hemangioma and its surface appearance.

Prevention

Since we don’t know the cause of hemangiomas, it’s not possible to prevent them.
A hemangioma [heh-man-gee-OH-muh] is a mound of blood vessels in the body. It used to be called a “strawberry birthmark,” but it’s not a true birthmark because only about one-third of hemangiomas are present at birth. Most hemangiomas are harmless, and will likely go away on their own. Hemangiomas are sometimes called tumors, but are not cancer and are usually harmless.