Hemangiomas: What parents need to know

As their infant grows and matures, many parents will experience and express concern about birthmarks. Up to 20 percent of Caucasian babies will have vascular birthmarks. The most common type is the infantile hemangioma, also known as “strawberry hemangioma.”

Hemangiomas are benign vascular proliferations that tend to appear in the infant’s first week of life as a faint red stain or patch. Over the next several weeks to months, the hemangioma undergoes a rapid proliferation or growth phase. When the child is approximately 6-9 months, the hemangioma’s growth halts and is followed by a very slow involution or “shrinking” phase.

Approximately 10 percent of hemangiomas involute, or “disappear” by 1 year, 50 percent by 5 years and 90 percent by 9 years. Many will never completely disappear and can leave behind some residual changes in the skin and tissues. These are most troubling when located on one’s face or neck.

While we don’t know what causes hemangiomas, we do know that there are some risk factors for getting hemangiomas, including :

  • Caucasian race
  • Female gender
  • Prematurity
  • Low birth weight
  • Multiple gestation
  • Prenatal hypoxia (pre-eclampsia, placental abnormalities)
  • Advanced maternal age

What to know if your infant has a hemangioma
The rapid growth in hemangiomas occurs during the first 3-4 months of life in most babies; close observation is often suggested during this time to determine which lesions require treatment (e.g., those causing functional impairment or those with impending complications like ulceration, obstruction of the eye or breathing passages). Early treatment (as young as 4 weeks of age) is most effective in halting the growth of these birthmarks.

Learn more about birthmarks and get in touch with our Hemangioma and Vascular Birthmarks Clinic here.

Carol J. MacArthur, M.D.
Professor, Pediatric Otolaryngology – ENT
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital