In this section
Haemangiomas are common birthmarks which are
usually red or purple. They mostly occur on the head and neck areas
and develop shortly after birth.
One in 10 babies will develop a haemangioma
and it is more common in girls. Some children can have more than
one haemangioma. If you choose to have further children, the
risk of them having a similar birthmark is not increased.
Haemangiomas are caused by an overgrowth of
the cells that line blood vessels (arteries and veins). This over
growth of cells forms lesions or birthmarks.
Haemangiomas appear in the first weeks of
life. They are often confused with a scratch or bruising related to
They then become a flat red patch often with
blood vessels you can see. If they are on the skin surface they can
look like a strawberry. If they are deeper in the skin they look
like a bluish lump. Sometimes they have both a surface and a deep
part. Haemangiomas can also grow on the internal
organs. These behave in the same way as those on the skin.
Haemangiomas grow fast in the first few
months then slow down in the second six months of life.
Sometimes they keep growing after the child's first birthday. When
they have stopped growing, they tend to stay the same size for a
while then start to disappear. Some will go away completely
while others will leave behind a soft, fatty lump. The time they take to disappear can be variable. Some will have nearly gone by three years of age, while a
small number (less than one in 10) are still there at up to eight or nine years
Usually, haemangiomas do not cause any
problems. Occasionally, the skin surface can ulcerate (develop a
sore). When this happens they can become painful and can bleed,
particularly if knocked or infecte d. This is most common in
haemangiomas located in the nappy area.
Very rarely, children with a large haemangioma
may have other problems including brain, eye and heart problems. However, the vast majority of children do not have these problems.
A separate type of haemangioma is now
recognised. Congenital haemangiomas are fully
formed at birth. Some stay the same size for many years and
others go away over the first few months of life. Another much rarer type of birthmark called a vascular
malformation is sometimes confused with
haemangioma. These do not go away but grow with the
child. They are true birthmarks that remain throughout a person's life.
Most haemangiomas disappear by themselves and
do not need any treatment. Sometimes a small biopsy of skin is
taken to find out what type of haemangioma it is.
Haemangiomas need treatment if:
Treatment should be given when the benefits of
treatment outweigh the risks involved. All treatments have
side effects that your doctor will discuss with you.
Cortisone can be taken by mouth or injected
directly into the haemangioma. If this does not work, other
medicines such as propranolol, vincristine and
interferon may be used.
Laser treatment can sometimes help treat a
haemangioma, especially if used very early in life while the
haemangioma is still flat. Laser is a high energy light source. The
particular laser used, Candela V-beam pulsed dye laser,
only targets blood vessels. (See Kids Health Info factsheet: Dermatological
(skin) laser therapy).
This means the laser destroys the blood vessels that
make up the birthmark without injuring the skin over the top. An
anaesthetic and many treatments may be needed. The possible side
effects of laser include ulceration, scarring, infection and the
complications of an anaesthetic.
In a few cases, haemangiomas are removed by
surgery during the first year of life. Usually though, it is more common for surgery to be delayed
for several years until the haemangioma has shrunk a lot.
When your child's haemangioma has mostly
disappeared there may still be some scarring, loose skin or
fatty lumps. These might need surgery or laser therapy.
Developed by RCH departments of
Dermatology, Plastic Surgery, General Surgery, General Medicine.
First published 2004. Updated November 2010.
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