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Vascular birthmarks

Vascular birthmarks, also known as red birthmarks, can also be pink or purple. They are caused by abnormal blood vessels under the skin, rather than pigmented skin that occurs with other types of birthmark.

Deeper blood vessel problems may lead to a blue coloured birthmark.

The haemangioma is a common type of vascular birthmark. It is usually painless and harmless and its cause is not known. Colour from the birthmark comes from the extensive development of blood vessels at the site.

Types of haemangiomas include:

Strawberry haemangiomas (also called strawberry mark, naevus vascularis, capillary haemangioma, haemangioma simplex) may appear anywhere on the body, but are most common on the face, scalp, back, or chest. They consist of small, closely packed blood vessels. They may be absent at birth, and develop after several weeks. They usually grow rapidly, remain a fixed size, and then subside. In most cases, strawberry haemangiomas disappear by the time a child is 9 years old. Some slight discolouration or puckering of the skin may remain at the site of the haemangioma.

Cavernous haemangiomas (also called angioma cavernosum or cavernoma) are similar to strawberry haemangiomas but are more deeply situated. They may appear as a red-blue spongy mass of tissue filled with blood. Some of these lesions may disappear on their own - usually as a child approaches school age.

Port-wine stains are flat purple-to-red birthmarks made of dilated blood capillaries. These birthmarks occur most often on the face and may vary in size. Port-wine stains are often permanent (unless treated).

Salmon patches (also called stork bites) appear on 30%-50% of newborn babies. These marks are small blood vessels (capillaries) that are visible through the skin. They are most common on the forehead, eyelids, upper lip, between the eyebrows, and the back of the neck. Often, these marks fade as the infant grows.

What are the symptoms of vascular birthmarks?

Symptoms of vascular birthmarks include:

  • Skin markings that develop before or shortly after birth
  • Red skin rashes or lesions
  • Skin markings that resemble blood vessels
  • Possible bleeding

How are vascular birthmarks diagnosed?

In most cases, a doctor can diagnose a vascular birthmark from the appearance of the skin. Deeper birthmarks can be confirmed with tests such as MRI, ultrasound, CT scans or biopsies.

What is the treatment for vascular birthmarks?

Many capillary birthmarks such as salmon patches and strawberry haemangiomas are temporary and require no treatment. For permanent lesions, concealing cosmetics may be helpful. Orally administered cortisone can reduce the size of a haemangioma that is growing rapidly and obstructing vision or vital structures.

Port wine stains on the face can be treated at a young age with a yellow pulsed dye laser for best results.

Other treatments for vascular birthmarks may include:

  • Cryotherapy (freezing)
  • Laser surgery
  • Surgical removal

In some cases, birthmarks are not treated until a child reaches school age. However, birthmarks are treated earlier if they compromise vital functions like vision or breathing or are of aesthetic concern.

Can vascular birthmarks be prevented?

Currently, there is no known way to prevent vascular birthmarks.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on April 26, 2016

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