Vascular Malformations

Vascular malformations (VMs) are abnormal blood vessels that develop before a baby is born. A person may have an increased number of blood vessels or misshaped vessels.

The cause of these malformations is unknown. Both males and females are equally affected.

Although vascular malformations are present at birth, they may not be seen or found until weeks or years later. Vascular malformations increase in size proportionally (at same rate) as a child grows. Some malformations may become larger around growth spurts including puberty.

Vascular malformations do not go away over time. Usually malformations cannot be entirely removed by surgery.

Vascular malformations consist of one or more type of blood vessel (capillaries, lymphatic channels, veins or arteries) or multiple. There are a number of different vascular malformations which are named for the involved blood vessel(s). These include:

The severity of these malformations varies greatly.

Vascular malformations may be organized as slow flow or fast flow. These terms mean how fast the blood is flowing through the malformation.

Arteriovenous malformations are fast flow lesions.

Capillary, lymphatic, and venous malformations are slow flow lesions.

Combined malformations may be either slow or fast flow.

Vascular malformations may be diagnosed by a medical history and physical examination. Imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT or CAT scan), angiogram and ultrasonography are also needed.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This test uses a magnetic field and radio waves to produce three-dimensional images of the inside of the body. Sedation or general anesthesia is often needed.
  • Computed tomography (CT): This imaging technique uses X-rays linked to a computer to see the internal anatomy of the body. Sedation sometimes used.
  • Ultrasonography: This technique uses sound waves to take pictures of the inside of the body. Sedation is not required.
  • Angiogram: This is a study of the blood vessels that uses a special X-ray machine. This procedure allows the doctor to see how blood flows through vessels. Sedation or general anesthesia is needed.

Treatment of vascular malformations varies. Complicated lesions are best managed by a team of specialists with expertise in treating vascular malformations. Treatment decisions must be made on an individual basis.

Treatment options include:

  • Observation
  • Compression therapy
  • Orthopedic interventions
  • Surgery
  • Laser therapy
  • Sclerotherapy
  • Drug therapy

Last Updated 02/2020

Reviewed by Kiersten Ricci, MD

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