Understanding Vascular Malformation

A vascular malformation is an abnormal growth of blood or lymph vessels. It's not cancer. It may be called a birthmark, but it may not be seen for weeks or months after birth. It doesn’t shrink over time. It continues to grow slowly during life. 

A vascular malformation can occur in or just under the skin, inside the body near organs, in the mouth, or in the brain. There are 5 types of vascular malformations:

  • Capillary malformation. This is when tiny blood vessels form a red or purple mark on the skin. It’s also called a port wine stain.

  • Venous malformation. This is when veins form an abnormal lump under the skin or in another part of the body.

  • Lymphatic malformation. This is when lymph vessels form an abnormal lump under the skin or in another part of the body.

  • Arteriovenous malformation. This is when veins and arteries have an abnormal connection. They form a lump under the skin or in another part of the body.

  • Mixed malformation. This is a combination of types. 

How to say it



What causes a vascular malformation? 

The cause of a vascular malformation often isn’t known. It may be passed on (inherited) in some families through a gene.

Signs of a vascular malformation 

Signs of a vascular malformation depend on the type, and can include:

  • A red patch on the skin

  • A soft lump in the skin that may look blue 

The patch or lump may also have pain or bleeding. 

Diagnosing a vascular malformation

Your child’s healthcare provider will diagnose your child’s skin growth. The diagnosis will be based on how it looks and if it changes over time. Your child may need to have an ultrasound or MRI. This can help the provider see where the malformation is growing.

Treatment for a vascular malformation 

A vascular malformation doesn’t shrink or go away without treatment. Treatment depends on the type. If your child has a large or life-threatening growth, they may see a team of healthcare providers. These can include:

  • Plastic surgeon

  • Skin doctor (dermatologist)

  • Eye care provider (ophthalmologist)

  • Other specialists 

Your child may need a combination of treatments. These may include:

  • Laser therapy. This may be done to treat port wine stains.

  • Sclerotherapy. A medicine to cause clotting may be injected into the veins or arteries. This will help them to close off and shrink.

  • Radiofrequency ablation. A small needle is put into the malformation and a high-frequency current is sent through it to destroy the affected vessels.

  • Percutaneous drainage. This may be used in lymphatic malformations. The healthcare provider makes a cut (incision) into the malformation. Fluid is drained through a catheter or similar device.

  • Surgery. In some cases, your child may need surgery to have lymphatic malformations removed. 

Possible complications of a vascular malformation 

A vascular malformation can be life-threatening if it is large, affects the brain or other organs, or blocks your child’s airway. In some cases, the condition is linked to other health problems, such as seizure disorder. 

Depending on where the growth is located, it may also cause physical problems. For example, your child may have trouble with swallowing, speech, vision, or moving part of their body. Blood clots can form in a vascular malformation if blood is not flowing normally through it.

Living with a vascular malformation 

A visible birthmark can cause emotional and social issues. A support group can help your child, and your family. Ask your child’s healthcare provider about support groups in your area. 

When to call your child’s healthcare provider

Call the healthcare provider if your child has:

  • Bleeding that is easily controlled

  • Trouble with feeding

  • Mild trouble breathing

  • Other new symptoms

Call 911

Call 911 if your child has any of these:

  • Bleeding that can't be controlled
  • A lot of trouble breathing