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The lymphatic system is vital to help the body eliminate toxins and waste. These channels run throughout the body and include a system of ‘nodes’ that remove materials from the lymph, the fluid circulated through this system. Lymph also carries crucial white blood cells to fight infection. We would not long survive without this important system that protects our body from microscopic invaders.

What Causes a Lymphatic Malformation?

When the lymphatic channels become blocked or a defect prevents the free flow of lymph, this allows fluid to accumulate within the defective vessel.

Researchers believe that these defective channels are formed before birth due to genetic reasons. No pre-birth activities, medications or environmental factors have been linked in any way with lymphatic malformations.

What are the Signs of a Lymphatic Malformation?

Symptoms of a lymphatic malformation are varied, due to how they impact nearby organs or structures. The most common sign is swelling of the defective channel as fluid builds up. This swelling can impact bodily functions as well as create a large, bulbous growth. These can occur anywhere but are most common on the neck or head.

Your provider at the Vascular Birthmark Institute will use advanced X-ray, CT and MRI imaging to determine the extent of impact from a detected lymphatic malformation. Depending on the area affected, difficulties with common functions or development can occur, making treatment necessary to relieve the blockage, or in many cases, remove the offending channels. The lymph is then rerouted by the body through a different, unaffected channel.

Some possible complications from a lymphatic malformation include:

  • Problems with speech, breathing or swallowing if the malformation occurs around the throat or mouth
  • Problems with bladder control or function, constipation or gastrointestinal function if the malformation is located around the pelvis or lower abdomen
  • Shortness of breath, pressure, a compromised airway or chest pain can occur if the malformation is located in the chest or neck area
  • Vision problems or even a displaced eye can result from a malformation growing too near the upper face or eye area

Any of these or other issues make treatment necessary to restore comfort, normal body function and/or development.

How Are Lymphatic Malformations Treated?

There are several avenues of treatment for lymphatic malformations. Your provider at the Vascular Birthmark Institute will recommend the best one according to the particular malformation and its location. For example, sclerotherapy or laser treatment can cause the malformed channel to wither and dissolve, much like treating varicose veins. The body reroutes the lymph through other channels. The swelling is eliminated, thereby removing the pressure on nearby structures or organs.

In some cases, surgery may be recommended. However, if the malformed channel is in a complicated area that precludes surgery, other means will be necessary. At the Vascular Birthmark Institute, we use the least invasive treatments possible before progressing to other, more invasive measures like surgery.

These can include drainage, medications, radiofrequency ablation or the above-mentioned sclerotherapy or laser therapy. Your provider can explain more about each in a confidential consultation.

Contact us in New York at the Vascular Birthmark Institute to schedule an exam and consultation if your child develops unexplained swelling around the head or neck.

Posted on behalf of Vascular Birthmark Institute

210 East 64th Street, 3rd Floor
New York City, NY 10065

Phone: (212) 434-4050

FAX: (212) 434-4059


Monday-Friday: 8:30am-5pm