Hemangiomas are abnormalities of the blood vessels near the skin. They are considered to be birthmarks, more commonly called strawberry birthmarks. In actuality these are unusual tumors that appear during the first weeks after birth. The tumors fill with blood and are called hemangiomas. The word, hemangiomas comes from 3 Greek words, Haema indicating blood and Angeio indicating vessel and Oma suggesting tumor. In other words, a hemangioma is a tumor that is located on blood vessels. A hemangioma tumor is composed of the endothelial cells that provide the lining of the blood vessels. Most hemangiomas do not appear at birth, but develop during the first weeks of life, and they usually resolve by themselves within 10 years. Hemangiomas do not cause any harm or discomfort to the child.
What causes hemangiomas?
Researchers believe the underlying causes of hemangioma may be related to the hormone, estrogen and localized hypoxia (low oxygen levels) in the soft tissues. It is believed that these conditions can trigger the onset of hemangiomas at the hypoxic area. Genetic studies will help to establish a definitive cause for this skin abnormality.
Complications of hemangiomas
Unless the location, size and other factors of hemangiomas cause damage to the self-esteem of the children, most tumors and growths could be left unattended to. These growths are also found to grow internally, in places like the liver and larynx. There are conflicting views on the treatment of hemangiomas, but many skin specialists recommend laser surgery to resolve the skin lesions. If hemangiomas occur in places that cause impairment of normal functions, such as with hemangiomas of the eyes, vision could be impaired or lost completely. Likewise, if hemangiomas occur near the ears, the child could suffer hearing loss. Therefore, medical attention is needed to diagnose and track these vascular tumors. Similarly, if there seems to be rapid growth or expansion of a hemangioma, medical attention will help to restore normalcy to the skin and associated blood vessels.
Since most hemangiomas shrink and disappear as the child ages, they are considered to be benign. On some very rare occasions, ulceration could develop at the site of the hemangioma which could lead to complications such as infection and bleeding. If the location of a hemangioma is at the larynx, breathing difficulties could result. It is important that a child with hemangiomas be followed by a qualified medical professional. Most of these tumors are harmless, but on rare occasions they can develop in the eyes, ears, and other vital parts of the body. Very large hemangiomas can demand so much blood that heart failure could result.
The treatment of hemangiomas used to involve oral medications such as corticosteroids; however, topical applications that contain beta- blockers can be used to reduce the extra growths that occur on infants. Surgery is needed when the hemangioma appears to be interfering with the normal functions of the surrounding organs. Just like with port-wine stains, hemangiomas can be electronically treated with the pulse-dye laser for cosmetic reasons. Pulse-dye laser surgery is much less invasive and less painful than other types of surgery. Though most hemangiomas cause no problems at all, the parent can ask the doctor about treating them with laser. Because hemangiomas can spread out and down into the skin, laser surgery should be used when the hemangiomas are first diagnosed, because the range of the laser is only about 3mm deep. When there are no complications, the parents may not elect to do anything because the lesions should disappear when the child gets older.