Learning about Hemangiomas

You may not have known that a “strawberry” mark is anything other than a funky birthmark, but it is actually an outpouching of extra blood vessels in the skin or more rarely deeper in the body.  These strawberry marks are called hemangiomas, and usually appear in infants, slowly disappearing by the time they are adolescents.  They appear at bright red mole-like nodules, most commonly on the upper body and head.  

What is a hemangioma?

A hemangioma is when blood vessels bunch together and create an abnormally dense lesion on or in the body.   The medical community is still unsure as to what causes this birthmark-like lesion but it could be something that occurs during fetal development or it is pass. It's not clear what causes the blood vessels to group together, although there may be an inheritedtrait that is passed down.


Hemangiomas on the skin: when hemangiomas, or the grouping of extra blood vessels develop on the skin, they look like a red birthmark.  This usually starts out flat on the skin, and over time starts to stick out, or protrude, making the hemangioma more pronounced. 

Hemangiomas on internal organs: these red bumps go mostly unnoticed if they grow in the inside of the body but could causing symptoms if and when they grow larger.  Some of the symptoms are unexplained weight-loss, vomiting, nausea, or adnominal discomfort. These can occur on the liver, brain, lungs, kidneys and colon.  

These benign lesions can appear at birth, like birth marks, or can grow and begin to appear (on the skin) in the first few months of an infant’s life.  As mentioned, it will start as a flat red mark on the body, and then begin to grow rapidly, larger and protrude.  Eventually, growth stops and the lesion stays at rest. The places they occur the most are on the face, chest, and back.  It starts out as a flat red mark anywhere on the body, most often on the face, scalp, chest or back. 

Most hemangiomas can be left alone, and simply monitored by a doctor.  If, however, the lesion bleeds, looks scabby or infected, bringing it to the attention of a physician is a good idea.   

Who is at highest risk?

Hemangiomas occur most often in:

• Infants

• Females

• Caucasian children

Diagnosis and treatment:

The diagnosis of these benign tumors occurs by analyzing the appearance of the lesion.  Usually, looking at the hemangioma is enough to diagnose it, and no further tests are needed.  In more complicated cases an MRI may be needed to gauge the depth of the blood-vessel build-up. 

Most hemangiomas never need any treatment, as they are benign lesions in or out of the body.  If the hemangioma is causing physical problems, or are very large and disfiguring on the skin – treatment might be recommended.  (As a side note – this is not usually the case.) Some treatments include corticosteroids, or laser surgery.  The steroids are typically injected, or taken in pill form to reduce the appearance of the hemangioma.  Laser surgery on the other hand can stop growth, or completely remove the lesion.  Both these treatments have side effects – so it is necessary to make sure their benefit outweighs to possible harmful effects.