Vascular Malformations and Hemangiomas

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Vascular anomalies -- blood, or lymph vessels that haven’t developed correctly -- may be present at birth but can cause concern at any age. Their type, location, and size determines their severity. They can be simple benign growths or, in extreme cases, can be life-threatening. Duke's team of specialists accurately diagnoses vascular malformations and provides the full range of care to children and adults. We develop a comprehensive treatment plan that meets your individual needs.

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Treating Vascular Abnormalities and Hemangiomas

Identifying the type of vascular anomaly is the first step. Because treatment varies drastically, it is important that you or your child be seen by a team of experts who are experienced in treating all types of vascular abnormalities.

Hemangiomas are the most common type of vascular tumor. These benign growths of blood vessels are often seen in infants and can range in size. While most shrink on their own, hemangiomas that are present in internal organs can interfere with vital functions such as vision, feeding, or breathing. They can also cause frequent bleeding or significant cosmetic deformity. The treatment depends on the size and location of the tumor.

Vascular Malformations
Vascular malformations are an abnormally formed combination of capillaries, veins, arteries, or lymphatic vessels. They can appear anywhere on the body and, depending on the type, can cause pain; frequent, uncontrolled bleeding; deformities; or an increased risk of blood clots.

  • Vascular malformations in the brain may trigger headaches or seizures.
  • Vascular malformations in the airway can cause speech problems or breathing concerns.
  • Vascular malformations in the eyes can cause vision problems.
  • Vascular malformations in the intestines can cause gastrointestinal bleeding.

Capillary Malformation or Port-Wine Stain
Capillary malformation or port-wine stain is a red or purple flat area on the skin. They are present at birth but can become darker and thicker as a person ages. In rare cases, port-wine stains can be a sign of a serious neurological disorder. Repeated treatments with a laser may lighten large, dark port-wine stains.

Venous Malformation
Venous malformation is a collection of veins that can occur anywhere on the body. Sometimes these areas can become swollen or painful or even bleed. Monitoring is important. Treatment can include compression garments, anticoagulation medication, sclerotherapy (a non-surgical treatment that involves injecting a chemical under ultrasound and X-ray guidance), or surgery. Venous malformations may not cause symptoms until adolescence because growth can be triggered by hormonal changes associated with puberty. Venous malformations are often lifelong issues that require comprehensive team care.

Arteriovenous Malformations
Arteriovenous malformations are abnormal connections between arteries and veins. They require monitoring and early treatment, as they usually grow throughout a person’s life.

Lymphatic Malformations
Lymphatic malformations occur when lymphatic vessels form abnormally during fetal development. They often appear as either small, clear blisters on the skin that do not go away, or very large swellings, especially of the neck. They typically form in the head or neck area. If the lesion is in the neck, it can be life-threatening. Lymphatic malformations that put you or your child at risk for permanent disfigurement or affect physical, emotional, and social well-being may be treated with drug therapy, laser treatment, or sclerotherapy to shrink the malformation. Surgery may also be recommended to remove the malformation.

Our Locations

Duke Health offers locations throughout the Triangle. Find one near you.


Ultrasound, X-rays, CT, and MRI

One or more of these tests may be used to determine the type and location of the vascular malformation.

DCE-MRI Scanning

We are one of a limited number of centers with advanced imaging technology called DCE-MRI. It uses a contrast dye to capture accurate images of blood flow in affected tissue.


Why Choose Duke

Team of Specialists
Our team includes vascular surgeons; dermatologists; ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists; orthopaedic surgeons; interventional radiologists; hematologists; ophthalmologists; plastic surgeons; and general surgeons, among others. Our experts undergo advanced training and certification in their specialties and have the experience to ensure you or your child receives the best care and treatment.

Our Expertise
Our expertise in complex cases and powerful imaging technology allows us to make clear, accurate recommendations.

Convenient Treatment for Your Child
We make every effort to make your visits convenient. A dedicated patient representative keeps your family informed during the entire process.

Consistently Ranked Among the Nation’s Best Hospitals

Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why we are once again recognized as the best hospital in North Carolina, and nationally ranked in 11 adult and 9 pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report for 2023–2024.

This page was medically reviewed on 08/08/2022 by