The body’s lymphatic system is a network of tubular channels and organs that help eliminate waste, toxins and other unwanted materials. The lymphatic system transports a fluid called lymph that contains infection-fighting white blood cells throughout the body. Lymph is transported to organs and then through lymph nodes in various locations. These nodes remove sources of infection and inflammation and help to fight disease.
When lymphatic channels are defective and prohibit the proper flow of lymph, the fluid accumulates within the defective vessels and forms a mass, known as a lymphatic malformation. These masses can form anywhere on the body, but are most common on the head or neck. Lymphatic malformations can grow, fluctuating in size due to the flow of lymph, but they typically continue to grow larger with age. Most lymphatic malformations are apparent at birth or become noticeable by age two.
Symptoms of Lymphatic Malformations
Individuals with a lymphatic malformation can have widely diverse symptoms, and may not display all the common symptoms. The basic symptoms of lymphatic malformations are due to the pressure it places on nearby organs or structures. For example:
- Malformations around the mouth or throat can cause difficulties with swallowing, breathing or speech.
- Malformations around the upper face or eye can cause vision problems or a displaced eye.
- Malformations in the chest area can cause pain, pressure, shortness of breath or other breathing difficulties, even a compromised airway.
- Malformations around the abdomen or pelvis can affect the bladder, gastrointestinal function or cause constipation.
The cause of lymphatic malformations is unknown. Many can be diagnosed before birth through ultrasound imaging. After birth, CT or MRI imaging is used to determine the location, size, type and potential harm of lymphatic malformations. These malformations affect males and females in equal proportion, and some are not discovered until they present problems in adulthood.
Lymphatic Malformation Treatment
Treatment for lymphatic malformations is determined on an individual basis by a vascular specialist. The team at Vascular Birthmark Institute will create a treatment plan that relieves symptoms and encourages the flow of lymph to reduce the malformation.
Depending on the location of the malformation, and the particular organs or functions it affects, various other medical specialists may be called upon for services. This can include otolaryngologists for ear, nose and throat problems, ophthalmologists for eye problems, neurosurgeons, pediatricians, pediatric surgeons or other healthcare professionals.
The most common treatments for lymphatic malformations include:
- Laser therapy
- Radiofrequency ablation
- Percutaneous drainage
Your medical team at Vascular Birthmark Institute will recommend other medical procedures as necessary to reduce symptoms and complications. Some malformations resolve and present no other problems. A few can require lifetime treatment to keep symptoms manageable.
Surgery is usually only recommended when necessary to regain function of a bodily system or to prevent disfigurement or other similar complications. Sometimes only a partial removal is necessary. In some cases, the location of the malformation precludes surgery, such as if its removal would pose an undue risk to other vital organs.
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with a lymphatic malformation, contact the Vascular Birthmark Institute. Our talented team provides world-class care for those suffering from vascular malformations, including lymphatic malformations.