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Diseases and Conditions
Hemangioma
From MayoClinic.com
Special to CNN.com

Introduction

Birthmarks come in all shapes and sizes. A hemangioma, one of the most common types of birthmarks, develops when blood vessels group together in one place in the skin.

A hemangioma — once known specifically as a strawberry hemangioma — is bright red and protrudes from the skin. It grows during the first year of life and then recedes over time. A hemangioma doesn't hurt and isn't a sign of illness.

Treatment for a hemangioma isn't usually needed. By age 9, a child who had a hemangioma in infancy usually has little visible trace of the growth.

Signs and symptoms

A hemangioma may be present at birth or appear during the first several weeks of life. It starts out as a flat red mark anywhere on the body, most often the face, scalp, back or chest.

During the first year of life, the red mark becomes a spongy mass that protrudes from the skin — often growing rapidly up to two or three inches in diameter. The hemangioma then stops growing and enters a rest phase. Eventually, it begins to slowly disappear.

Half of all hemangiomas are flat by the time a child is 5 years old, and nearly all hemangiomas are flat by the time a child is 9 years old. Although the color of the birthmark also fades, faint — but permanent — discoloration of the skin may remain.

Causes

A hemangioma consists of an abnormally dense group of widened (dilated) blood vessels. It's not clear what causes the blood vessels to group together, although some research suggests a link between hemangiomas and certain proteins produced by the placenta during pregnancy.

Risk factors

Hemangiomas are two to three times more common among females than males. They're more common among premature babies than full-term babies, and they're more common among white infants than those who have darker skin.

When to seek medical advice

Your child's doctor will monitor the hemangioma during routine checkups. In the meantime, contact your child's doctor if the hemangioma bleeds, forms an open sore or bruise, or grows suddenly over one to two days.

Screening and diagnosis

A hemangioma is diagnosed based on appearance. Diagnostic tests aren't usually needed.

Complications

Occasionally, a hemangioma that grows or shrinks especially quickly forms an open sore. This can lead to pain, bleeding, scarring or infection. Depending on where the hemangioma is located, it may interfere with your child's vision, breathing or hearing.

Treatment

Hemangiomas usually fade gradually without treatment. If the growth interferes with your child's vision or causes other problems, treatment options may include:

  • Corticosteroid medications. Corticosteroids can be injected, given by mouth or applied to the skin. Sometimes long-term or repeated treatment is needed. The risks are potentially serious, including poor growth, high blood sugar, high blood pressure and clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye (cataract).
  • Laser surgery. Lasers can stop the growth of a hemangioma. Sometimes lasers can be used to remove a hemangioma or treat sores on a hemangioma that won't heal. Again, the risks are potentially serious, including pain, infection, bleeding, scarring and changes in skin color.

If you're considering treatment for your child's hemangioma, carefully weigh the benefits and risks with your child's doctor. Remember, most hemangiomas disappear on their own during childhood.

October 09, 2006

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