Baby Birthmark

In those emotional and amazing first seconds after a baby is born, anxious parents count fingers and toes and breathe a sigh of relief. Like many other parents, the Cochrans were relieved to hear their twins Kaitlin and Eleanor were healthy. But shortly after, they noticed a faint red mark on the side of Kaitlin's face and pointed it out to the pediatrician.

"He said, just a strawberry birthmark nothing to worry about. Then about two weeks after that, we noticed it was growing," said mom Trish Cochran.

To their surprise, it grew at an alarming rate, spreading to her ear. Kaitlin was diagnosed with a hemangioma - a growth made up of a collection of abnormal blood vessels. Hemangiomas are non-cancerous tumors that come in all shapes and sizes and, in most cases, can look more threatening than they really are.

It all depends on where they grow and how big they get. They could interfere with eating, hearing or even vision. And a big concern now is, there seems to be an increase occurring in roughly 10 percent of all babies.

"Hemangiomas we are seeing do tend to be often larger and more complicated," said Dr. Anthony J. Mancini, pediatric dermatologist, Children's Memorial Hospital.

Mancini is also part of a group of researchers trying to understand the cause.

"It's not entirely clear. We do have some new information from research studies that were showing us risk factors. And now one of those risk factors is maternal age," Mancini said.

So the question is, why are hemangiomas showing up on babies of older mothers? There are some theories.

"At this point in time, nobody really knows exactly why hemangiomas occur. There may be a link to placenta tissue and maybe that gets us back to the issue of maternal age," Mancini said.

Along with maternal age, early research also shows infants with hemangiomas are more likely to be female, premature and from a multiple gestation, such as twins or triplets. High blood pressure during pregnancy or an abnormality in the placenta also seems to raise the risk.

Hope Balourdos was born with a hemangioma that started threatening her vision. Her parents had worried about her health and the emotional impact. Five years later, it's barely visible. Steroids helped slow the growth and eventually the hemangioma shrunk.

"We are just letting Mother Nature take her course and, as you can see, she is doing great," said Maria Balourdos, mother.

Other treatments can include laser or surgical removal. But surgery is only done in severe cases because of the risks of scarring. Steroids can slow the growth but won't make it go away quickly. In fact, it can take up to 10 years for hemangiomas to go away. Kaitlin is on oral steroids. So far, the hemangioma seems to have stopped growing.

"So happy we acted quickly because it grows so quickly for the first six months, and if we had waited, it would have been that much larger," said Trish Cochran.

Hemangiomas are just one type of birthmark. Experts stress that all birthmarks should be seen by a physician because accurate diagnosis and early intervention is key in some cases.

Dr. Anthony J. Mancini
Pediatric Dermatologist
Children's Memorial Hospital
2300 Children's Plaza
Box 107
Chicago, Il.

National Association Vascualr Anomalies
Hemangioma Investigator Group

Vascular Birthmarks Foundation

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