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Beta Blocker Treats Vascular Birthmark

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BACKGROUND: A hemangioma is a type of vascular birthmark in babies. It is the most common non-cancerous tumor of the skin. It is an abnormal build-up of blood vessels that can occur on the surface of the skin or internal organs. They usually occur in the first few weeks of an infant's life and affect up to 10 percent of babies.

Hemangiomas are believed to be at least somewhat genetic and have a variety of inheritance patterns and chances for reoccurrence.

It is not clear what causes the build-up of blood vessels that make up a hemangioma, although some research suggests a possible link between hemangiomas and certain proteins produced by the placenta during pregnancy.

Superficial or "strawberry" hemangiomas are typically not treated and usually go away on their own. Hemangiomas that occur internally appear as a lump and may cause more serious complications and need medical treatment. This is because over time the hemangiomas can grow to a very large size, which sometimes causes significant nasal obstruction, breathing problems or vision problems.

PROPRANOLOL: Propranolol is a non-selective beta-blocker that has been used to treat hypertension for 50 years. New research suggests that propranolol may also be an effective treatment for hemangiomas. A clinical trial is currently being done to determine whether propranolol is a safe and efficient treatment for children with vascular birthmarks. In early trials the medication has given 100 percent of children some sort of result.

The risks involved in taking propranolol are very slight, but the most common side effects in children are lowered blood pressure, lowered blood sugar and asthma.

Craig Boerner
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
(615) 322-4747

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