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Understanding Hemangioma 

A hemangioma is a growth of blood vessels that appears on the skin. It’s sometimes called a strawberry hemangioma, because it's bright red. It’s known as a type of birthmark. But it often can't be seen at birth. It often forms in the first few weeks of life. It's the most common type of noncancer (benign) skin growth.

Girls are 3 times more likely to have them than boys. They are more common in multiple births such as twins, and low-birth-weight preterm babies. In most cases, a hemangioma will keep growing for the first 3 to 5 months of life. Then it starts to shrink.

How to say it

hee-MAN-jee-oh-muh

What causes a hemangioma? 

The cause of a hemangioma often isn’t known. It may be passed on (inherited) in some families through a gene. The way it's passed on is called autosomal dominant inheritance. This means that only one parent needs to have the gene to pass it on. If the parent has the gene, each child has a 1 in 2 chance to have the condition. Hemangiomas are more common in babies born prematurely, with low birth weight, or as part of a multiple birth.

Signs of a hemangioma 

A hemangioma starts as a faint, red mark on the skin. It then grows very fast and can form a bumpy, bright-red lump. It can grow most often in the head or neck area. But it can occur anywhere on the skin, mucous membranes, or internal organs. It will generally keep growing for the first 3 to 5 months of life. Then it usually starts to shrink. Over time, it becomes smaller and lighter in color. In about half of children, it's gone by age 5. In most children, it's gone by age 10.

Diagnosing a hemangioma 

Your child’s healthcare provider will diagnose your child’s skin growth. The diagnosis will usually be based on how it looks and if it changes over time. Your child may need to have more tests, such as an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI. This can help their provider make the diagnosis. In rare cases there may be a concern that the lesion may be a form of cancer. Then a small piece of tissue (biopsy) may be taken. It will be checked under a microscope.

Treatment for a hemangioma 

Treatment for a hemangioma depends on its size, location, and how severe it is. A hemangioma may grow until your child is about 12 months of age. Then it will usually start to shrink. In many cases, it will go away without treatment.

If your child has a hemangioma near their eyes or airway, it may need to be treated. It should be treated by a craniofacial doctor. This is a specialist in treating head and face problems. Your child’s healthcare provider may advise:  

  • Oral or topical medicines which may include steroids or beta-blockers, such as timolol or propranolol (medicines routinely used for glaucoma and blood pressure)

  • Injection of steroids into the hemangioma

  • Laser or surgical removal

  • Embolization of the hemangioma (injecting chemicals into the blood vessels going into the hemangioma to block the blood flow to it)

Possible complications of a hemangioma 

Most hemangiomas are small and insignificant. But a hemangioma can be life-threatening if it’s large or affects your child’s airway or another organ. It can also be serious if it has bleeding that can’t be stopped. In very rare cases, a very large hemangioma can have too much blood flow through it. This may cause a strain on your child's heart.

Your child’s skin may not look normal after the hemangioma shrinks. Many children have scarring, skin discoloration, and tissue wasting (atrophy). Depending on where the growth is located, it may also cause physical problems. For instance, your child may have trouble with vision, or moving part of their body. 

Living with a hemangioma 

A visible hemangioma can cause emotional and social issues. A support group can help your child and your family. Ask your child’s healthcare provider about support groups in your area.

When to call your child’s healthcare provider 

Call the healthcare provider if your child has:

  • Bleeding that can be easily controlled

  • A rapidly enlarging hemangioma

  • Trouble with feeding

  • Other new signs or symptoms

Call 911

Call 911 or get medical care right away at the nearest emergency room if any of these occur:

  • Bleeding that can't be easily controlled

  • Trouble breathing

Online Medical Reviewer: Liora C Adler MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2021
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