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Understanding Vascular Malformation

A vascular malformation is an abnormal growth of blood or lymph vessels. It is not cancer. It may be called a birthmark, but it may not be seen for months or weeks after birth. It doesn’t shrink over time. It continues to grow slowly during life. 

A vascular malformation can occur in or just under the skin, inside the body near organs, in the mouth, or in the brain. There are 5 types of vascular malformations. They are:

  • Capillary malformation. This when tiny blood vessels form a red or purple mark on the skin. It’s also called a port wine stain.

  • Venous malformation. This is when veins form an abnormal lump under the skin or in another part of the body.

  • Lymphatic malformation. This is when lymph vessels form an abnormal lump under the skin or in another part of the body.

  • Arteriovenous malformation. This is when veins and arteries have an abnormal connection and form a lump under the skin or in another part of the body.

  • Mixed malformation. This is a combination of types. 

VASS-kyoo-ler

mal-for-MAY-shun 

What causes a vascular malformation? 

The cause of a vascular malformation often isn’t known. It may be passed on (inherited) in some families through a gene. 

Signs of a vascular malformation 

Signs of a vascular malformation depend on the type, and can include:

  • A red patch on the skin

  • A soft lump in the skin that may look blue 

The patch or lump may also have pain or bleeding. 

Diagnosing a vascular malformation

Your child’s healthcare provider will diagnose your child’s skin growth. The diagnosis will be based on how it looks and if it changes over time. Your child may need to have an ultrasound or MRI. This can help his or her healthcare provider see where the malformation is growing. 

Treatment for a vascular malformation 

A vascular malformation doesn’t shrink or go away without treatment. Treatment depends on the type. If your child has a large or life-threatening growth, he or she may see a team of doctors. These can include:

  • Plastic surgeon

  • Skin doctor (dermatologist)

  • Eye doctor (ophthalmologist)

  • Other specialists 

Your child may need a combination of treatments. These may include:

  • Laser therapy. This may be done to treat port wine stains.

  • Sclerotherapy. A medicine to cause clotting may be injected into the veins or arteries. This will help them to close off and shrink.

  • Radiofrequency ablation. A small needle is put into the malformation and a high-frequency current is sent through it to destroy the affected vessels.

  • Percutaneous drainage. This may be used in lymphatic malformations. The healthcare provider makes a cut (incision) into the malformation. Fluid is drained through a catheter or similar device.

  • Surgery. In some cases, your child may need surgery to have lymphatic malformations removed. 

Possible complications of a vascular malformation 

A vascular malformation can be life-threatening if it is large, affects the brain or other organs, or blocks your child’s airway. In some cases, the condition is linked to other health problems, such as seizure disorder. 

Depending on where the growth is located, it may also cause physical problems. For example, your child may have trouble with swallowing, speech, vision, or moving part of his or her body. Blood clots can form in a vascular malformation if blood is not flowing normally through it. 

Living with a vascular malformation 

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

  • Trouble with feeding

  • Trouble breathing

  • Other new signs or symptoms

© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.