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New AAP Guidelines Aim to Prevent Potential Problems from Common Type of Baby Birthmark

Baby with birthmark. Baby with birthmark.

The American Academy of Pediatrics' first infantile hemangioma clinical practice guideline discourages the traditional "wait and see" approach. Instead, the report calls for early identification of certain hemangiomas that may cause scarring or medical problems.

The goal: prompt treatment - when needed - for best outcomes.

In its first-ever clinical practice guideline for infantile hemangiomas, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) calls for a shift in approach to the common, bright red or bruise-like birthmarks that appear shortly after a baby is born. Infantile hemangiomas, the most common benign (non-cancerous) tumor of childhood, usually are harmless and start to go away on their own after a period of rapid growth. The AAP emphasizes that early identification and monitoring is essential, however, to allow for timely treatment that can prevent medical complications or permanent disfigurement.

The report, “Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of Infantile Hemangiomas,” marks the first time the AAP has developed guidelines for these birthmarks, clusters of extra blood vessels that appear on up to 5 percent of infants. 

While some can form inside a child’s body, most form on or within the skin. Superficial hemangiomas may look like rubbery, bumpy red “strawberry” marks, while those deeper in the skin may resemble bruised swelling. 

“The traditional approach to infantile hemangiomas was very hands-off, since most begin to go away on their own without causing problems,” said Dr. Ilona Frieden, MD, FAAP, vice-chairperson of the multidisciplinary AAP subcommittee that spearheaded the new guidelines.

“But for some hemangiomas, waiting until they cause problems misses a critical window of opportunity for treatments that can prevent significant complications such as permanent scarring, skin breakdown, or medical problems,” she said. 

The AAP guideline emphasizes which infantile hemangiomas are most likely to pose problems and may need treatment. Hemangiomas located on certain parts of the body are more likely to become open sores, bleed, become infected and scar, for example. Those near the child’s eyes, nose or mouth may affect the child’s ability to see, eat, or breathe well. Large hemangiomas on facial features, such as the nose or lip, can also distort growth. In rare cases, especially when there are five or more hemangiomas, others may grow inside the body and need to be monitored with imaging tests.

Infantile hemangiomas typically grow most rapidly between 1 and 3 months of age and tend to stop growing by about 5 months of age, according to the guidelines. This benchmark was determined after an extensive review of research, and is earlier than once believed, said Daniel P. Krowchuk, MD, FAAP, chairperson of the clinical practice guideline subcommittee.

"This is why the AAP recommends treating problematic hemangiomas ideally by 1 month of age,” Dr. Krowchuk said. “The goal is to keep them from getting any bigger during their period of rapid growth, or to make them shrink more quickly,” he said.  

The guidelines also outline the best treatments for problem hemangiomas. The recommended treatment of choice is propranolol, a beta blocker medication used for many years to treat high blood pressure that is now commonly given by mouth to slow the growth of hemangiomas. Oral steroids have been largely replaced by safer and more effective options but may still be used in select cases.  Topical medications applied directly on, or injected into, the skin may be used for small, superficial hemangiomas. 

"Because surgery will always leave a scar itself--and because most hemangiomas get better with time--early surgery is only recommended for a small minority of cases,” Dr. Krowchuk said. 

The subcommittee was composed of infantile hemangioma experts in the fields of dermatology, cardiology, hematology-oncology, otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, plastic surgery, radiology and epidemiology, as well as general pediatrics, policy implementation and a parent representative. The practice guideline underwent comprehensive review by the AAP, including AAP councils, committees and sections and select outside organizations.

Additional Information from HealthyChildren.org:

Published
12/24/2018 12:00 AM
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