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What Is a Capillary Hemangioma?

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  • Written By: Amanda Barnhart
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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A capillary hemangioma, also called a strawberry mark, is a red birthmark that is either present at the time of birth or develops within the first six months of life. Most of these marks begin to fade by the time the child is between 12 and 15 months old, and some of the marks disappear completely. These birthmarks are more common in girls and babies who are born prematurely. Most capillary hemangiomas do not cause problems, though they can create vision problems if present on or near the eye or breathing problems if they are near the nostrils or mouth.

Blood vessels that develop abnormally near the skin's surface are responsible for the formation of a capillary hemangioma. The exact underlying cause of the condition is not known, but these types of birthmarks are extremely common. A lighter form of the mark, often called a stork bite, appears on as many as 30 to 50 percent of infants. A capillary hemangioma can appear anywhere on the body, but they usually fade on their own. Treatment is only necessary for marks that cause vision, breathing, or feeding problems.

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Doctors examine all birthmarks on infants to make sure they are not a more serious skin condition. A capillary hemangioma is usually easily diagnosed by its appearance, but doctors may perform a biopsy if they suspect another skin condition or a deeper birthmark. These red marks are superficial, meaning the occur in the topmost layers of skin. They do not usually cause symptoms beyond cosmetic appearance, but sometimes a capillary hemangioma can cause discomfort. Bleeding in the area of these marks is often heavier due to the more densely clustered blood vessels under the skin.

If a capillary hemangioma occurs near the eye or nostril and causes vision or breathing problems, a doctor may suggest treatment to shrink or remove the birthmark. Injecting steroids into the hemangioma or applying a topical steroid cream can shrink the blood vessels and stop the mark from spreading. Laser surgery to shrink or remove the mark is another common form of treatment that typically works well with few side effects. In severe cases a doctor may completely cut the mark away, though this is reserved for situations in which other treatment options have failed.

Most capillary hemangiomas fade by the time a child is school age, but some persist into adulthood and may create self-esteem issues due to their appearance. Heavy cosmetic concealers can reduce the appearance of these marks. In some cases, birthmarks can be faded or removed with medical procedures for cosmetic reasons, though this is not usually necessary because the marks are typically very light by the time a person reaches adulthood.

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