Common Childhood Conditions

Venous Malformations

What Does a Venous Malformation (VM) Look Like?

The word "venous" means vein. The word "malformation" means failure to develop or form normally.

VMs are collections of dilated (full) veins not used by the body. They are usually present as a painless purplish mass at birth, but they may not be recognized for some time.

They grow slowly with your child. The mass tends to get larger if it is below the level of the heart and during adolescence. The closer the mass is to the surface of the skin, the more clearly the veins can be seen.

What Causes a VM and Who Gets It?

Venous malformation

Venous malformations in the hand.  

VMs have no known cause, although one rare type is found to be caused by a specific faulty gene. Blue Rubber Bleb Nevus Syndrome is a rare hereditary condition that produces VMs throughout the body, including the stomach area.

VMs are quite rare and affect boys and girls equally.

Will a VM Change?

VMs grow slowly over many years. Over time, these veins stretch and the malformation grows.

Children often develop symptoms (i.e. pain, swelling) from VMs as they approach puberty. It is not known whether the symptoms are hormonally triggered or result from rapid growth.

I Think I've Seen a VM on My Child. What Should I Do Now?

It is important that your child be diagnosed properly in order to tell this condition from others and to begin managing pain or swelling if this is a problem.

How Will Seattle Children's Diagnose a VM?

VMs can be confused with the more-common deep hemangiomas, vascular tumors or the rare arteriovenous malformations. Usually the distinction can be made by physical exam and history.

Tests may be needed to tell the extent of the VM and to confirm the diagnosis. They can include MRI, CT, Doppler or angiography.

How Will Seattle Children's Treat a VM?

There are several treatments depending on your child's specific condition.

Medical treatments are often effective and include aspirin and supportive devices:

  • Aspirin helps decrease the number and severity of blood clots.
  • Aspirin can also help with pain from clotting of the blood and is given twice a week. Remember, though, with aspirin therapy, appropriate precautions must be used in order to prevent Reye's syndrome.
  • If the arm or leg is involved, an elastic stocking, glove or sleeve can be worn to slow its growth and help with the discomfort.

Surgery can sometimes be done to remove the mass. Although surgery can be quite effective, it is often difficult to separate the VM from the surrounding nerves and other important tissues.

Sclerotherapy is a process that treats the condition by a laser or injection of a material that "burns" the VM.

Sclerotherapy is highly effective in treating VMs. It can reduce the size of the VM by 80 percent as well as reducing the purplish color and the uncomfortable fullness associated with VMs.

Seattle Children's uses laser therapy to treat certain VMs.