Written by April Kahn | Published on August 15, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD on August 15, 2012


What Is a Hemangioma?

Hemangiomas are noncancerous growths that form due to an abnormal collection of blood vessels. They are usually found on the skin or internal organs—particularly the liver. Because they are congenital, most people develop them before birth, while they are still in the womb.

Hemangiomas on the liver rarely cause symptoms. Usually, they are not discovered until you are tested for an unrelated condition. 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 are not sure why blood vessels group together like this, but they suspect it is caused by certain proteins that are produced in the placenta during gestation (or the time when you are in the womb).

On the Skin

Hemangiomas of the skin can form on the top layer of skin or on the fatty layer underneath. In the beginning, it may appear to be a red birthmark on the skin. Slowly, it will start to protrude from the skin.

On the Liver

Hemangiomas of the liver form in and on the liver’s surface. These hemangiomas are thought to be estrogen-sensitive. 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 fuel the growth of liver hemangiomas.

Where Else Can Hemangiomas Grow?

Hemangiomas can grow on other areas within the body, such as the:

  • kidneys
  • lungs
  • colon
  • brain

Hemangiomas that grow in the brain cavities or other cavities within the body are called cavernous hemangiomas.

Signs and Symptoms of Hemangiomas

Hemangiomas do not 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 the face.

Symptoms of Hemangiomas of the Internal Organs

Hemangiomas within the body usually go unnoticed until they grow large or multiple hemangiomas form.

Common symptoms that you might have are:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • 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.

Treatment Options for Hemangiomas

A single, small hemangioma usually requires no treatment and will likely go away on its own.

When Skin Hemangiomas Require Treatment

Skin hemangiomas that develop lesions or sores may require treatment.

Treatment options include:

  • corticosteroid medication
  • laser treatment
  • medicated gel
  • surgical removal

Corticosteroid 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 of the hemangioma.

A medicated gel called regranex is often used to treat ulcers on the surface of skin hemangiomas. This gel has no effect on the hemangioma itself.

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 damaged organ or the damaged area
  • tying off of the main artery supplying blood to the hemangiomas
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