Vascular birthmarks (medically called vascular anomalies) are abnormal blood vessels that people are born with. Most often, them appear on a baby’s skin not long after they’re born. But they can also be found deeper in the skin and are discovered later in life as they grow. 

Vascular anomalies are divided into two main categories: vascular tumors, which include hemangiomas, and vascular malformations, which are a collection of abnormally connected blood vessels named by the type of vessels they include.

A stork's bite (reddened skin on the back of the neck), and an angel's kiss (reddened skin on the forehead), are simple vascular malformations called nevus simplex or salmon patches. They are probably the most well-known vascular anomalies and usually fade as a child gets older. They typically do not require medical treatment, but they can be treated with laser therapy if they don't fade.

What is a hemangioma?

A hemangioma is a benign (not cancerous) tumor of small blood vessels found in five to 10% of children.

Infantile hemangiomas are found on babies and generally fade on their own without any complications. They’re often seen as a small red mark that grows quickly for six to eight months. You can find them anywhere on the body. When they grow, they can cause complications, such as bleeding, depending on where they’re located. If a hemangioma is in a high-risk anatomic site, such as the airway, eyes or nasal tip, it can be treated with laser therapy, surgical removal, steroids or a drug called propranolol.

A rare type of hemangioma is called a congenital hemangioma, which is fully formed at birth and no longer grows, but can quickly involute (shrink). These hemangiomas can cause pain and bleeding. Treatment includes observation, surgical removal, closing off the blood vessels and care of symptoms.

Vascular Malformations

Vascular malformations aren’t tumors. They’re made up of a network of incorrectly connected blood vessels and are defined by which blood vessels are involved. For example, capillary, lymphatic, venous and arteriovenous malformations act differently. A type of malformation you might have heard of is a “port wine stain,” most often seen on the face. This is a capillary malformation of the skin. Port wine stains won't go away on their own, but they can be treated with surgery, laser, direct injections and medicine.

Arkansas Children’s Comprehensive Approach

No two vascular anomalies are alike. One can be simple, requiring nothing more than your pediatrician keeping an eye on it, and another could be extremely complex, requiring several specialists and different treatments.

Skin malformations and hemangiomas can be lasered. Vascular anomalies and the complications they often have might require surgery depending on where they’re located. Radiologists can use sclerotherapy to treat deeper vascular malformations of the veins, arteries or lymphatic vessels. In this process, a solution is injected into the abnormal vessels causing them to collapse and rerouting the blood to healthier vessels. Other patients might see a hematologist because of bleeding issues.

Arkansas Children’s has found that our patients benefit most from being seen and followed by a comprehensive group of specialists that use the newest surgical and medical treatments. A team that can diagnose, treat and contribute to the ongoing research of vascular anomalies is important for providing excellent care and producing great results.