Telangiectasia

Written by Lydia Krause | Published on July 20, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is Telangiectasia?

Telangiectases are widened venules (tiny blood vessels) that cause red lines or patterns on the skin. Their formation is gradual. Telangiectases are common in areas that are easily seen (lips, nose, eyes, fingers, oral cavities). They can cause discomfort and look unattractive. Most people choose to have them removed.

Removal is done by causing damage to the vessel and forcing it to collapse or scar. This reduces the appearance of the red marks or patterns on the skin.

Hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (HHT) is a genetic condition that can be life-threatening. Instead of forming on the skin, telangiectases can appear in vital organs. They may break causing massive bleeding (hemorrhages).

Causes of Telangiectasia

The causes of telangiectases are unknown. Researchers believe they could be related to sun exposure. This is because they usually appear in places exposed to sunlight.

Other possible causes include:

  • alcoholism (can affect the flow of blood in vessels)
  • pregnancy (can apply large amounts of pressure on venules)
  • aging (blood vessels begin to weaken)

Symptoms of Telangiectasia

Telangiectases can be uncomfortable. They are generally not life-threatening, but may be unattractive.

Symptoms include:

  • pain (related to pressure on venules)
  • itching
  • red marks on the skin

The symptoms of hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia include:

  • frequent nosebleeds
  • red or dark black blood in stools
  • shortness of breath
  • seizures
  • small strokes
  • port-wine stain birthmark

Diagnosing Telangiectasia

Doctors may rely on the clinical signs of the disease. Telangiectasia is easily seen as red marks or lines on the skin. In some cases, doctors may want to make sure that no underlying disorder is present. Diseases associated with telangiectasia include:

  • hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia: an inherited disorder of the blood vessels that can cause excessive bleeding
  • Sturge-Weber disease: a rare disorder that causes a port-wine stain birthmark and nervous system problems
  • spider angiomas: an abnormal collection of blood vessels near the surface of the skin
  • xeroderma pigmentosa: a rare condition in which the skin and eyes are extremely sensitive to ultraviolet light

Hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (HHT) may cause the formation of abnormal blood vessels called arteriovenous malformations (AVMs). These may occur in several areas of the body. These AVMs allow direct connection between arteries and veins without intervening capillaries. This may result in hemorrhage (severe bleeding). This bleeding can be deadly if it occurs in the brain, liver, or lungs.

To diagnose HHT, doctors may perform magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a computed tomography (CT) scan to look for bleeding or abnormalities inside the body.

Treatment of Telangiectasia

Treatment focuses on improving the appearance of the skin. Different methods include:

  • laser ablation: laser targets the widened vessel and seals it (short recovery and little pain)
  • surgery: widened vessels can be removed (very painful and long recovery)
  • sclerotherapy: focuses on causing damage to the inner lining of the blood vessel. This is followed by a blood clot causing the venule to collapse, thicken, or scar.

Treatment for HHT may include:

  • embolization (a procedure to block or close a blood vessel)
  • laser therapy to stop bleeding
  • surgery

Outlook for Telangiectasia

Treatment can improve the appearance of the skin. Those who have treatment can expect to lead a normal life after recovery. Depending on the parts of the body where the AVMs are located, people with HHT can also live a normal lifespan.

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Article Sources:

  • Grand’Maison, A. (2009, April 14). Hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 180(8), 833-835. doi:10.1503/cmaj.0181739
  • Haitjema, T., Westermann, C.J., Overtoom, T., Timmer, R., Disch, F., Mauser, H., & Lammers, J. (1996, April). Hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (Osler-Weber-Redu Disease): New insights in pathogenesis, complications, and treatment. Archives of Internal Medicine, 156(7), 714-719. doi: 10.1001/archinte.1996.00440070028004
  • Telangiectasia. (2012, September 10). Genetics Home Reference. Retrieved July 22, 2012, from http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/glossary=telangiectasia

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