What Are Vascular Anomalies?

What is a Vascular Anomaly?

Vascular anomaly is a name for a group of disorders that develop before or after birth in any part of the vascular system that carries blood and lymphatic fluid throughout the body. Many vascular anomalies arise in the head and neck region, but they can develop in any part of the body reached by these vessels—that’s everywhere.
Vascular anomalies may be visible on the skin as a raised red or purple area, but they can also form below the skin or even in muscles, bones, and internal organs. Many vascular anomalies are uncomplicated and don’t require medical intervention. But others can cause disfigurement as they change and progress with age. More serious anomalies can affect breathing, feeding, and vision and can be challenging to treat.


There are two basic types of vascular anomalies: 

Vascular Tumors

Vascular tumors are growths of the cells that line blood vessels. They include hemangiomas (link to hemangiomas), which is the most common form of vascular anomaly, and the most common type of non-cancerous tumors in infants. Other types of vascular tumors include:

Vascular Malformations

Whenever a part of the vascular system fails to develop normally, it may result in a vascular malformation. They are already formed at birth, although they may not appear until later in life. Vascular malformations can be made up from any type of vessels, including arteries, veins, capillaries, and lymphatic vessels. They can disrupt normal blood and/or lymphatic flow and cause bleeding and abnormal clotting. When vascular malformations arise in a limb or one side of the face, they can also cause overgrowth and disfigurement, and they sometimes press inward on internal organs, interfering with vision, feeding, and breathing. Vascular malformations tend to grow at a slower rate with the child and, without treatment, may persist throughout life, which is why seeing a vascular anomalies specialist with expertise in vascular malformations sooner rather than later is essential.

Types of vascular malformations include:

Related Genetic Disorders

Some vascular anomalies occur in combination with known genetic disorders and are often associated with overgrowth syndromes.

Symptoms of Vascular Anomalies

Your child's symptoms will depend on what type of vascular anomaly they have and the location of the vascular anomaly. Symptoms may include a red or purple birthmark or growth with pain, bleeding, swelling and malformation of the limbs, face, tongue, or genitals. 

Diagnosis of Vascular Anomalies

Your child's pediatrician can diagnose many common vascular anomalies at birth or during a routine physical examination. Your child may need more evaluation or imaging tests to gather additional information, especially if we are concerned about a deeper vascular anomaly.

Large vascular anomalies are sometimes detected before birth by prenatal ultrasound. In that case, your obstetrician may refer you to our Maternal Fetal Medicine program, whose specialists may send you to our team for prenatal consultation and management.
Because vascular anomalies can affect different body systems, a correct diagnosis is critical to their management. Choosing the right first tests and methods is very important so we can get an accurate diagnosis and prevent unnecessary testing. Columbia’s Vascular Anomalies Clinic is designed to bring specialists together to ensure that your child receives an accurate diagnosis and that the treatment and management lead to the best possible outcome.