A hemangioma, also known as strawberry mark, is a birthmark on the skin which appears as a bright red nodule, rubbery in texture due to extra blood vessels in the skin. Hemangioma increases in size during the first year of a child’s life, and then starts to decrease gradually. By the age of 10, the child who had a hemangioma during birth may not even have any trace of it.
Hemangiomas are actually growths, which are noncancerous in nature and they form due to atypical collection of blood vessels. As mentioned before, hemangiomas are commonly found on the skin; but they can also occur on internal organs, commonly the liver. Cavernous hemangiomas are those hemangiomas which are formed in cavities, such as brain cavities etc. in the body. A hemangioma commonly occurs on the skin, but it can appear anywhere on the body and often appears on scalp face, back or chest.
Treatment is not usually required, as the hemangioma recedes with age. However, if the hemangioma is causing other problems by interfering with breathing or vision; or if it increases in size, then it needs to be removed.
Causes & Risk Factors of Hemangioma
A hemangioma develops when excess of blood vessels group together and form an atypical dense patch of blood vessels. The exact reason why this happens is not clear. According to experts, there may be a hereditary factor involved; or this could happen because of some proteins which are produced from the placenta during pregnancy. Hemangiomas commonly occur more in females and white and premature babies.
Signs & Symptoms of Hemangioma
- A hemangioma is commonly present at birth; however, it may not be apparent or visible until the first few months of the child’s life have passed.
- Hemangiomas generally do not cause any symptoms. They will only cause trouble if they are present on a sensitive region, or if they are multiple of them present, or if they grow rapidly in size.
- Hemangioma appears as a flat mark, red in color; can appear anywhere on the body; but more commonly on the scalp, face, back or chest.
- Hemangiomas also appear as bumps or scratches on the baby’s skin.
- They are often red or burgundy in color, due to which they are also known as strawberry hemangiomas.
- Usually only one mark is present, but sometimes there may be more than one hemangioma present, especially if the children are twins or from a multiple birth.
- During the first year, a hemangioma rapidly increases in size, and is spongy in texture, which protrudes from the skin.
- After this, the hemangioma has a rest phase.
- After the rest phase, the red mark gradually starts to disappear.
- About 50% of the hemangiomas recede completely by the age of 5.
- Almost all the hemangiomas disappear by the age of 10.
- Even though the color of hemangioma recedes, there still may be some skin discoloration or redundant skin present.
- Serious Symptoms: If the hemangioma starts to bleed or if there is formation of an ulcer/sore or if there is an infection, then contact your health care provider immediately.
Signs & Symptoms of Hemangiomas if present on Internal Organs
- Abdominal pain/discomfort.
- Appetite loss.
- Unintentional weight loss.
- Sensation of fullness or heaviness in the abdomen.
Investigations for Hemangioma
Physical examination or visual inspection is sufficient to diagnose a hemangioma. Further tests are not usually required.
Hemangiomas present on the internal organs can be detected or diagnosed by tests, such as ultrasound, CT scan or MRI.
Treatment for Hemangioma
Most of the hemangiomas do not require treatment. If the birthmark is present at a place where it can cause embarrassment or disfigurement, then treatment may be done to avoid any psychological or social problems to the child. However, it is highly recommended to leave a hemangioma alone if it is not causing any problem, as the hemangioma gradually fades overtime and that too without any treatment.
If the hemangioma is causing problems, such as breathing problems or vision problems (if present on the eye) in the child, then treatment is needed and it includes:
- Corticosteroids can be injected into the hemangioma nodule.
- Oral or topical corticosteroids can also be used. Side effects include slow growth, hyperglycemia, hypertension and cataracts.
- Laser surgery helps in stopping the hemangioma growth and can also be used for removing the hemangioma. Laser is also helpful in treating the sores formed on the hemangioma, which are not healing.
- Side effects are pain, bleeding, infection, skin color changes and scarring.
- Surgical removal of hemangioma is done if they are very large in size or are causing pain. They also are removed surgically if present on an internal organ causing other symptoms.
- New experimental treatments include interferon alfa, beta blockers and topical immune suppressants etc; however, research is still being carried on them.