Vascular malformations refer to rare structural abnormalities that can occur in the vascular system.
The term vascular malformations encompasses a variety of structural anomalies that affect blood vessels (arteries, veins, arterioles, venules and capillaries) or lymph vessels, or a combination of these. These vascular issues—which can sometimes cause visible birthmarks, blemishes or growths on the skin—are present at birth, though they may become apparent in later years.
Vascular malformations may cause problems with blood flow and can carry the risk of hemorrhagic stroke from a ruptured blood vessel. They can occur anywhere in the body and are named according to the affected vessel.
Some types of vascular malformations include:
- Venous malformations (VM)
- Lymphatic malformations (LM)
- Arteriovenous malformations (AVMs)
- Venolymphatic malformations (VLM)
- Capillary vascular malformations (port-wine stains)
- Cavernous malformations
- Hemangiomas and pigmented skin lesions
- Congenital syndromes, such as Sturge-Weber, Klippel-Trenaunay, Kasabach-Merritt, CLOVES and Cutis Marmorata
Causes of Vascular Malformations
Why blood and/or lymph vessels develop abnormally to form vascular malformations is not clear, though genetics don’t appear to play a role.
In general, the abnormalities appear to fall into two categories. For example, in patients who have arteriovenous malformations (AVMs), abnormal connections form between arteries and veins, creating a tangle of vessels that hinder proper blood flow. In addition, blood or lymph fluid can accumulate in poorly formed vessels, which can cause vessels to swell and potentially rupture.
Symptoms of Vascular Malformations
The symptoms someone with vascular malformations might experience will depend on the size and location of the abnormality.
The most common symptoms include:
- Skin discoloration in the area of the malformation
For some people, a mass, growth or blemish that is tender and bruises easily may be a sign of a vascular malformation.
Diagnosis of Vascular Malformations
A physician can diagnose vascular malformations by performing a physical exam and reviewing a patient’s medical history. Imaging tests may also be ordered to confirm and more closely evaluate the malformation.
Diagnostic tests can include:
- Computed tomography (CT)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Treatments for Vascular Malformations
The treatment for vascular malformations is determined by the malformation’s type, location and risk of complications. Because these conditions can affect many areas of the body, the vascular specialists at Tampa General Hospital take a multidisciplinary approach to caring for patients with vascular malformations. Teams of experts from pediatrics, pediatric orthopedic, plastic surgery, hematology, radiology and other specialties are consulted on treatment options as needed to ensure the patient’s needs are fully met.
Treatments for vascular malformations can include:
- Catheter-based procedures, such as embolization and sclerotherapy
- Laser therapy
- Surgery to remove or block off the malformation
- Reconstructive procedures