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A vascular anomaly, or vascular malformation, is a condition caused by a localized irregularity in the blood vessels, and is typically benign in nature. The anomalies are found on the skin and are considered superficial, but they can also be detected deeper in the skin and these are termed “cavernous.” Certain anomalies develop from birth and are sometimes called birthmarks, while others can be caused by physical trauma. There are two classifications of vascular anomaly: vascular tumors, or hemangiomas, and vascular malformations. Hemangiomas are often found in infants and usually tend to recede with time, but they can also be found in older adults, whereas vascular malformations are present at birth and continue to grow.
The majority of these anomalies occur on the head or neck but they can be found anywhere on the body, including internally. It is unknown what causes infantile hemangioma, but they are more prevalent in girls, as well as twins and premature babies. Although there is no evidence that these anomalies are genetic, up to ten percent of infants with birthmarks will have members of their family that have birthmarks as well. Hemangiomas are difficult to treat and doctors will often simply allow them to disappear on their own. Doctors will occasionally take corrective actions using lasers if the vascular anomaly is large and unsightly.
Congenital hemangiona is different from infantile hemangioma in that it is already fully formed at birth. The condition can actually be detected by using anultrasound while the baby is still in the womb. The congenital hemangioma does not continue to grow after birth and is typically around two inches (about five cm) in diameter. They are usually found as one single birthmark and are found among girls and boys in equal occurrence. Another rare type of vascular anomaly that is present at birth is called kaposiform hemangioendothelioma, but this does not metastasize, or spread to the rest of the body.
In contrast to hemangiomas, vascular malformations grow in proportion to the child and are considered to be a malfunction of the veins, capillaries and lymphocytes. Sometimes known as port-wine stains, capillary malformations are flat to the skin, red in color, found mostly around the head and neck, and they tend to darken with age. Lymphatic malformations are created by blockages in the lymphatic system and are benign. They can result in large, distended areas of the skin and can be corrected with surgery. Venous malformations are bluish and are the most common malformations, with up to 40 percent of vascular anomalies being venous in nature.
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