What Is a Hemangioma?
Hemangiomas are noncancerous growths that form due to an
abnormal collection of blood vessels. They’re often found on the skin or
internal organs, particularly the liver. They are usually congenital, which
means that most people develop them before birth, while they’re still in the
Hemangiomas on the liver rarely cause symptoms. Usually,
they’re not discovered until you are tested for an unrelated condition — this
is called an “incidental finding.” Skin hemangiomas appear as small scratches
on babies and grow larger as the child ages. However, most hemangiomas of the
skin disappear by the age of 10.
Hemangiomas are usually small, but in some cases they may
grow large, or develop lesions and require removal. There are no known ways to
prevent the growth of hemangiomas on the skin or organs.
How Do Hemangiomas Develop?
Hemangiomas of the skin develop when blood vessels group
together into a single lump. Experts aren’t sure why blood vessels group
together like this, but they suspect that it’s caused by certain proteins that
are produced in the placenta during gestation (the time when you are in the
On the Skin
Hemangiomas of the skin can form on the top layer of skin or
on the fatty layer underneath (called the subcutaneous layer). In the
beginning, it may appear to be a red birthmark on the skin. Slowly, it will
start to protrude upward from the skin.
On the Liver
Hemangiomas of the liver form in and on the liver’s surface.
These hemangiomas are thought to be sensitive to estrogen. During menopause,
many women are prescribed replacement estrogen to minimize the symptoms caused
by the decline of their natural estrogen levels. This excess estrogen can spur
the growth of liver hemangiomas.
Where Else Can Hemangiomas Grow?
Hemangiomas can grow on other areas within the body, such as
Hemangiomas that grow in the brain cavities or other
cavities within the body are called cavernous hemangiomas.
Signs and Symptoms of Hemangiomas
Hemangiomas don’t normally cause symptoms during or after
their formation. However, they may cause some symptoms if they grow large, if
there are multiple hemangiomas, or if they grow in a sensitive area.
How Do Skin Hemangiomas Look?
Hemangiomas of the skin usually appear to be small red
scratches or bumps. As they grow, their appearance is similar to a burgundy-colored
birthmark. Skin hemangiomas are sometimes called strawberry hemangiomas,
because of their deep red appearance. This type is mostly found on the neck or
Symptoms of Hemangiomas of the Internal Organs
Hemangiomas inside the body usually go unnoticed until they
grow large, or multiple hemangiomas form.
Some symptoms that you might have include:
- abdominal discomfort
- loss of appetite
- unexplained weight loss
- a feeling of fullness in the abdomen
How Are Hemangiomas Diagnosed?
No special tests are used to diagnose skin hemangiomas. Your
doctor can diagnose them by sight during a physical examination.
Hemangiomas on the organs are usually spotted during an
imaging test, such as an ultrasound, MRI, or CT scan, and are usually detected
as an incidental finding.
Treatment Options for Hemangiomas
A single, small hemangioma usually requires no treatment and
will likely go away on its own. However, some cases will require treatment.
When Skin Hemangiomas Require Treatment
Skin hemangiomas that develop lesions or sores may require
Treatment options include:
- corticosteroid medication
- laser treatment
- medicated gel
- surgical removal
medication may be injected into the hemangioma to reduce its growth
and stop inflammation.
Laser treatment is
used to remove the hemangioma. In some cases, a surgeon may use laser treatment
to reduce redness and promote quicker healing.
A medicated gel called becaplermin (Regranex) is often used to treat
ulcers on the surface of skin hemangiomas. This gel has no effect on the
If the hemangioma is particularly large, or is in a
sensitive area like the eye, your doctor may opt to remove it surgically.
When Hemangiomas on the Organs Require Treatment
Hemangiomas within the body may require treatment if they
grow exceptionally large or cause pain.
Treatment options for these hemangiomas include:
- surgical removal of the hemangioma
- surgical removal of the damaged organ or damaged
- tying off the main artery that supplies blood to
More often than not, a hemangioma is more of a cosmetic
concern than a medical one, but you should talk to a doctor if you have any
concerns or want to discuss removal.