A Message about Vascular Birthmarks

Blog_ Message about Vascular Birthmarks (4)

Vascular birthmarks are very common in children. These birthmarks are made of blood vessels in the skin and can occur anywhere on the body. They may be pink or red in color, blue or purplish, flat or raised. Since they are vascular, sometimes they will feel warm to touch and may change in color with changes in your child’s body temperature (like when your child is crying or in a warm bath). They are benign (not cancer) and most cause no harm. Many vascular birthmarks get better over time, some stay the same, and some get worse as a child gets older.

For many vascular birthmarks, the cause is unknown. Some vascular birthmarks are caused by changes in genes, but most of those genes affect only the skin where the birthmark is located, and are not inherited (they are not passed on from parent to child). There are many types of vascular birthmarks, most common but some rare, and sometimes there can be confusion about which type is which. It is thus best to have your child’s birthmark evaluated by your pediatrician, with referral to a pediatric dermatologist or other vascular birthmark specialist if needed. Google is a good resource for many things, but especially when it comes to vascular birthmarks, it is not very reliable!

Many vascular birthmarks do not need to be treated because they go away on their own and are harmless. Sometimes though, treatment may be offered or needed for your child for medical reasons or for cosmetic ones, especially if your child’s birthmark is in a more noticeable location like the face. There are many treatments for vascular birthmarks. Sometimes medications can be given by mouth (orally) or used on the skin (topically) to control the growth of a vascular birthmark. Sometimes lasers can be used to improve the color or texture. Occasionally, surgery or other treatments may be needed. Deciding which treatment is best for your child varies greatly depending on the type of vascular birthmark it is. That is why it is so important to make sure your child receives the correct diagnosis.

Lastly, it is also best for your child to be diagnosed as soon as possible after birth, and for your child to be referred to a specialist as soon as possible if your pediatrician decides a specialist is necessary. Timely diagnosis and referral is important because if your child needs treatment, many treatments for vascular birthmarks work best when they are started as early as possible in your child’s life.



Written by: Dr. Denise W. Metry

Dr. Denise Metry has a special interest in the diagnosis and treatment of children with vascular birthmarks, particularly infantile hemangiomas, port-wine birthmarks, and other rare vascular birthmarks of the skin. She is dedicated to providing compassionate care for her patients and their families.

She is a founding and active member of the Hemangioma Investigator Group, an international physician working group established in 2000 to promote hemangioma research and education. She is the physician leader for the Sturge-Weber syndrome Clinical Care Network at Texas Children's Hospital, and the dermatology leader for the Vascular Birthmarks Clinic at Texas Children’s. She has authored well over 100 manuscripts and book chapters dedicated to furthering our understanding of vascular birthmarks, and she mentors, teaches and lectures locally, nationally and internationally.

Dr. Metry has longstanding expertise in the treatment of vascular birthmarks with over 20 years of experience. She offers a variety of medical treatments for infantile hemangiomas, including topical timolol and oral propranolol. She also has extensive laser experience and offers pulsed-dye laser for port-wine birthmarks, as well as alternative lasers for other types of vascular birthmarks. Lastly, she is involved in pharmaceutical research looking at novel, topical targeted gene therapies for vascular birthmarks.

Dr. Metry hosted the first PHACE syndrome research and family meeting at Texas Children's in 2008, from which diagnostic criteria for the syndrome were established. She is dedicated to vascular birthmark patient advocacy efforts in Houston, and recently has extended her passion to international mission work, having traveled to underserved parts of Asia and Africa to provide vascular birthmark education.

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