What is lymphatic malformation?

Lymphatic malformations are congenital vascular lesions made up of vessels within the body's lymphatic system - which help carry fluids containing white blood cells and protein throughout the body to help fight off infection - that become abnormal. Often seen in the head and neck, they fill with fluid, and if someone has an infection, those vessels can become large and cyst-like.

This condition is often referred to as lymphangioma or cystic hygroma, but the correct term is lymphatic malformation.

What are the signs and symptoms of lymphatic malformation?

Lymphatic malformations, frequently located in the head and neck area, are often present at birth. They can be very large and, when present in the neck area, frequently cause airway obstruction and may require tracheostomy.

When malformations are inside the mouth, vesicles containing fluid or blood may form. These formations may resemble fish eggs. When this occurs, it is common to have pain when eating acidic or salty foods, bad breath and bleeding. An MRI can be beneficial in confirming the diagnosis of lymphatic malformation and defining the extent of the disease.

How are lymphatic malformations treated?

Lymphatic malformations are difficult to cure if they are diffuse (affecting more than one small area). The goal of treatment is to help the patient maintain functions such as swallowing and speaking and help look as normal as possible. 

Your care team at Arkansas Children's is experienced in treating lymphatic malformations, and will work with you to create the best treatment plan for your child. Treatment options include: 

  • Surgical options like sclerotherapy or surgical resection
  • Medications like blood thinners to help with clotting
  • Steroids and antibiotics to help control the growth


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