Does your child have a hemangioma?

Hemangiomas of infancy – often simply called birthmarks – are common vascular birthmarks of the skin. They are benign growths of blood vessels and related tissues and are thought to occur in approximately 4-5 percent of all infants. Are they ever cause for concern? We talked to Dr. Teresa Wright, chief of Pediatric Dermatology at Le Bonheur and co-director of the hospital’s Vascular Anomalies Center, to learn more.

hemangiomaDo we know what causes hemangiomas? When do they appear?

Although it is not clear why they occur, they appear to be more common in females, Caucasian infants, premature infants and infants with low birth weight. Most hemangiomas have a very predictable pattern of behavior. Although a mark may be noticed on the skin at birth, most hemangiomas appear around 2-4 weeks of age.

Do they ever go away?

Typically, there is a period of rapid growth, followed by stabilization and gradual improvement over a period of several months to years. The amount of time it takes for a hemangioma to “go away” depends on its overall size, thickness and location. The smaller and thinner the hemangioma, the faster it will resolve. It is important to understand that all hemangiomas do not “go away” completely. Although some do, many leave areas of redness, increased small blood vessels, soft masses or baggy areas of skin behind. These are problems that can usually be improved with laser therapy and/or surgery.

Can hemangiomas pose any health risks? When should you see a specialist?

Although most hemangiomas do not cause significant medical problems, some are associated with an increased risk of complications. Fortunately, life-threatening complications are rare. However, some hemangiomas occur in locations that may threaten vital functions, such as vision or hearing. Extensive or large lesions on the face (especially around the eye, ear, lip, or nasal tip) or in the groin/buttock area are somewhat more prone to complications and should be referred for evaluation by a specialist. In addition, multiple hemangiomas may rarely be associated with syndromes that involve other organ systems. 

The best time for a child to be seen by a specialist is early, preferably in the first two months of life, before any significant problems or complications arise. If your child has a hemangioma that is causing or threatening to cause a significant complication, there are medical therapies (i.e., topical and/or oral medicines) that can be used to control and improve the situation. Rarely, surgery or laser therapy may be recommended for certain complications.

A reliable educational resource regarding infantile hemangiomas has been created by the Hemangioma Investigator Group and can be found at: www.hemangiomaeducation.org.

Birthmark, hemangioma