What Is a Hemangioma?

A hemangioma is a type of birthmark caused by extra blood vessels in the skin. Sometimes they're visible at birth, but they may take up to two weeks to appear.

Often, the birthmark first shows up as a flat bright pink or red spot on the skin. As time passes, it grows and looks like a red bump on the skin.

These benign skin tumors are the most common type of soft-tissue tumor in infants.

Sometimes a hemangioma on the face or head can cause problems with:

  • Breathing
  • Vision
  • Hearing

These raised tumors are also easy to scratch and bump.

When done growing, it will stay the same size for a while. Then it will shrink and go away, leaving just a red mark. Most hemangiomas go away by the time a child is 5 to 10 years old.

The vascular anomalies team at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh has expert training in treating hemangiomas. To make an appointment for your child, call us at 412-692-8650.


What causes hemangioma?

There is no known cause for this condition.

Doctors do know these birthmarks are more common in girls who are Caucasian, and in babies that are born early. As many as 10 percent of Caucasian infants may be born with a hemangioma.

Symptoms & Diagnosis

What are the symptoms of hemangiomas?

There are three types of hemangiomas that look like a birthmark, all of which start as a red mark that swells.

  • Superficial is the most common type. Often called a "strawberry mark," it forms on the top part of the skin.
  • Deep hemangiomas look more like bruises and form under the skin.
  • Combination means the blood vessels are both superficial and deep.

Sometimes these tumors can affect organs inside the body.

Multiple hemangiomas are when a child has more than five of these marks on their skin. These children are more likely to also have them inside their bodies.

They can sometimes grow inside a child's airway, causing breathing problems or a cough that won't go away.

How do doctors diagnose hemangiomas?

Your child's doctor can diagnose a hemangioma with a simple exam.

If your baby has many visible birthmarks, the doctor may order tests to see if there are any hemangiomas inside the body.

Some tests that can look for these spots inside the body are:

  • Ultrasound, which uses sound waves to take pictures of the inside of the body.
  • CT scans, which are like x-rays but take pictures of the head in "slices." Then, the scanner puts them together to make a detailed, 3D picture.
  • MRI scans use magnets and radio waves to take detailed pictures.

Your child may need to see a few specialists, such as:

  • An ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor.
  • A genetics expert.
  • A plastic surgeon.
  • A feeding expert if the need arises.


At the Vascular Anomalies Center at UPMC Children's Hospital, we look at each child's unique case and needs.

We assess your child with care and use only the least invasive treatments necessary.

Most hemangiomas don't need treatment. But if your child's is causing health problems, we'll talk to you about treatment options.

Oral medicines

Some spots respond well to oral beta-blockers. Your child will take it twice a day for about six months.

Sometimes we prescribe oral steroids for kids who can't take beta-blockers.

Medicated creams to treat hemangiomas

A beta-blocker liquid applied directly to the skin may be an option for some children.

Steroid shots

We can treat some spots by injecting steroids into them. The steroids help the blood vessels shrink and reduce swelling.

Laser treatments for hemangiomas

Laser therapy can help:

  • Shrink blood vessels on the surface of the skin.
  • Improve the appearance of a spot that has "gone away."
  • Treat tumors in a child's airway.


Your child may need surgery to remove a hemangioma if it bleeds or hinders their normal day-to-day activities.

We always perform surgery under general anesthesia.

Contact the Vascular Anomalies Center

Call us to learn about our hemangioma treatment options or make an appointment at 412-692-8650.