Hemangioma | Diagnosis & Treatment

How is hemangioma diagnosed?

Your visit will start with a complete medical history and a thorough physical exam. In most cases, the physician will be able to diagnose your child’s hemangioma simply by looking at it and reviewing the clinical history with the parent or caregiver.

If more information is needed to confirm your child’s diagnosis, the physician may request an ultrasound. An ultrasound is an imaging test that uses sound wave technology to examine the size of the hemangioma and allows your doctor to see how much blood is flowing through it.

In rare cases, the physician may need more information to confirm a diagnosis of more complicated hemangiomas. In this case, the physician may order a:

  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): High-resolution scan that shows how large your child’s hemangioma is, as well as its relationship to nearby muscles, nerves, bones and other blood vessels.
  • Biopsy: Surgical procedure that removes a small tissue sample for further testing of its cells under a microscope

What are the treatment options for hemangiomas in children?

Most hemangiomas go away by age 3 to 5 and do not require any treatment. Your child’s physician will recommend treatment if the hemangioma:

  • obstructs vital functions like breathing or vision due to its location
  • becomes infected or starts to bleed
  • distorts a child’s facial or other body features
  • is associated with other conditions that may be harmful to the infant

Treatment typically starts with medication management, which can slow the growth of a hemangioma and even shrink it. Your child’s physician may recommend surgery or laser therapy when medically necessary.

Propranolol for hemangioma

Propranolol is the first-line therapy for hemangioma in children, which means medical experts agree it is the most effective first step in treatment.

Propranolol, an oral medication, is a beta-blocker commonly used to treat cardiac issues such as high blood pressure. In infants and children with hemangiomas, propranolol inhibits and constricts the growth of blood vessels associated with the tumor and decreases factors that are causing its growth.

Medication management for hemangioma

Your child’s physician may recommend other drug therapies in combination with propranolol or as an alternative. These include:

  • Selective beta-blocker therapy: These drugs may have fewer side effects and are currently under investigation
  • Topical beta-blocker therapy, such as timolol: Used if the hemangioma is smaller in size
  • Combination therapy: Children with more complicated lesions may benefit from two treatments, such as combining propranolol with corticosteroid or timolol

Surgery for hemangioma

Surgery is less common today with the development of advanced medications to shrink hemangiomas. Your child’s physician may recommend surgery if:

  • the hemangioma interferes with a vital structure and surgery is necessary to remove the hemangioma
  • the child has an ulcerated hemangioma
  • the hemangioma has involuted but there are residual effects, such as changes to the skin that need to be corrected

Laser therapy for hemangioma

Laser therapy can:

  • improve the appearance of skin after a hemangioma has shrunk if telangiectasias are present
  • decrease pain in patients with ulcerated lesions

Caring for hemangioma in children at home

While most hemangiomas do not require formal treatment, there are steps you can take at home to help healing.

Because the skin is stretching during the growth phase, hemangiomas in certain areas (lip, GU area) can be prone to ulceration and bleeding.

  • Keep the skin around the lesion moist with a fragrance-free ointment, such as Aquaphor.
  • Gently wash a bleeding lesion daily with soap and water.
  • Apply a topical antibiotic to reduce the risk of infection and dress the wound several times a day.
  • Please call your physician if there are any signs of ulceration as your physician will direct the most appropriate management.