For lovers of the classical languages, Latin and Greek, you will be ahead of the curve in the guessing game for the meaning of the word, Hemangioma. Hemo or Haemo is anything connected to blood and ‘gioma’ is aligned to ‘Glioma’ which is a type of tumour.
What is the medical definition of Hemangioma?
Hemangioma is a type of thankfully, benign tumour, which is comprised of a knot of blood vessels rather than cancerous cells. This quite textbook narrow definition is augmented with different specific terminology dependent on the exact location of the hemangioma.
What is hemangioma in layman’s terms?
Hemangioma is a cluster of blood vessels either external to the skin and therefore apparent or internal and hidden out of sight. Depending on site and visibility, Hemangioma may be symptomless and cause no problems, it may be absent pain and if not visibly evident – the individual may not even be aware of it.
So what hemangioma is will vary according to its location and size. This also determines applicable treatment options, if any.
What are the known causes of hemangioma?
Some hemangiomas are deemed to be contemporary from birth so congenital. Doctors also know that hepatic hemangiomas enjoy estrogen and so pregnant ladies or those receiving synthetic hormone supplementation may fall into a bracket of increased risk. It is no coincidence that hemangiomas of the liver often cause no trouble but are found due via the ultrasounds used to check gestational development in expectant mums. Hemangiomas also affect newborns – they present what is colloquially termed, a strawberry birthmark, clinical definition, Infantile Hemangioma. Statistics show that around 4-5% of babies develop these with a propensity noted amongst Caucasian girls, premature babies and twins but what causes hemangioma to develop in some babies and not others have not been satisfactorily established.
What are the treatment options for external hemangioma?
Where the hemangioma is located and its dimensions dictate the treatment choices, after all, you may not have even known about its existence. Hemangiomas are often discovered on routine scans for other health concerns. Many hemangiomas do not require any treatment but they can have a significant psychological impact if they are visible. If they protrude then they can be continually knocked with clothing, bleed and ulcerate so hemangiomas are often removed for practical and cosmetic reasons. Small superficial and/or ulcerated hemangiomas may be treated with the gel, Timolol. This is a Beta-blocker and can be utilised for between six and twelve months without any ill effects. There is also a medicated substance called becaplermin (Regranex) which is used to solely treat the ulcer, it has no impact on the actual hemangioma and carries quite grave side effects if used repeatedly so is not commonly the first line of defence. Corticosteroids may be injected into the hemangioma to inhibit both growth and inflammation.
Laser treatment is a possibility to physically remove the hemangioma, sometimes a scalpel incision is used to actually resection the hemangioma and then it is finished with a laser to reduce inflammation and accelerate the healing process. Most hemangiomas cause far greater emotional distress than they do genuine, substantive nuisance. However, if the hemangioma is in a tricky area such as adjacent to your eye, then there is a clinical imperative to remove it.
What about the removal of hemangioma from the organs?
Two choices here, surgical removal of the hemangioma or restriction of the main blood vessel which supplies the hemangioma, a procedure called ‘tying off’. Many people with hidden hemangiomas are oblivious to them. However, hemangioma on the spinal column or in the brain is a whole different kettle of fish. Due to their invasive nature, they can cause pressure to nerves or on the brain itself resulting in symptoms ranging from mental confusion through to headaches, migraine, loss of coordination and seizures akin to epileptic fits.
What does all this mean for you, with a recent hemangioma diagnosis?
No question, hemangiomas are not malignant, the biggest fear for most people, they just focus on the word, ‘tumour’ from the consultant and glaze over, forgetting to pick up on the crucial qualification that it is non-cancerous.
Also, hemangioma rarely causes a problem unless sited in an awkward and inopportune location. Cosmetic removal is possible if it is unsightly and causing real mental anguish – think of a teenage girl with a hemangioma on her face or somewhere in sight in the school changing rooms.
Clearly, for newbie parents, an infantile red birthmark looks horrifying and pretty frightening but in fact, there are so many more life-threatening conditions that your child could encounter, this is not such a bad diagnosis. Paediatricians will monitor the hemangioma carefully and they have usually disappeared either through intervention or naturally by the time the toddler goes to school. Read more information from one of the most famous children’s hospitals in the world. What this means really is that hemangiomas are nothing to worry about. In the small percentage of cases where they do present problems, there is alternative recourse to deal with them.
Any skin abnormality, however small, should always be checked out by a doctor who can refer you to a specialist for ultimate diagnostics if necessary.
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