Lymphatic Malformations

Lymphatic malformations are non-malignant, fluid-filled masses that are most often found on the head and the neck. These masses are usually apparent at birth. They used to be called lymphangiomas or cystic hygromas.

The lymphatic system consists of vessels that move lymph, a fluid made of white blood cells that helps to protect against infection and disease. A lymphatic malformation consists of enlarged fluid-filled lymphatic channels that do not connect to the normal lymphatic system. This causes swelling in the area in which the malformation is located.

Some of these malformations can be quite large. Some may cause disfigurement.

The exact prevalence of lymphatic malformations is unknown, but is thought to be 1 in 4,000 live births.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause is not known; however, it is thought to be incorrect fetal development in the womb.

Symptoms and Types

The specific symptoms and severity of lymphatic malformations vary based on size and location on the body. They can potentially cause disfigurement and make it difficult to use the part of the body that is affected.

Diagnosis and Tests

Diagnosis may include:

Treatment and Care

The types of treatment depend on your child’s symptoms. These include:

  • Size and location of the malformation
  • Pain from the malformation
  • Your child’s tolerance for certain medications

Treatment may require the coordinated efforts of a team of doctors specializing in vascular anomalies. These specialists may include:

Treatment may consist of:

  • Sclerotherapy. This treatment involves injecting a solution directly into the mass to make it shrink.
  • Surgery to decrease the size of the mass
  • Medical treatment to decrease the size of the mass
  • Compression stockings on the affected areas to help reduce swelling and pain

Living and Managing

Children with a lymphatic malformation may experience social and psychological difficulties. A strong support system helps parents and their child cope with living with this condition.