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Lymphatic malformation is a non-cancerous fluid-filled mass that occurs due to abnormal development of the lymph vessels. The lymph vessels are tiny tubes present near the blood vessels. They facilitate transport of tissue fluids from within the body to the lymph nodes and back into the bloodstream.

Lymphatic malformations are usually present at birth (congenital) or may develop by the age of two. They are common in the head and neck but may also develop in the cheeks, mouth, bones, joints, and parts of the digestive and respiratory system.

Types of Lymphatic Malformations

There are two main types of lymphatic malformations.

  • Cystic hygroma: A large cyst or fluid-filled pocket formed due to blockage of the lymphatic vessels.
  • Lymphangioma: A group of lymphatic vessels that aggregate to form a lump or fluid-filled mass.

What are the Causes of Lymphatic Malformation?

Lymphatic malformations occur during early embryonic development due to improper formation of the lymph vessels. As the fetus continues to grow, the lymphatic fluid is not drained properly and accumulates in the lymph vessels, which in turn leads to their enlargement or blockage.

What are the Risk Factors for Lymphatic Malformation?

Children with chromosomal abnormalities and genetic disorders such as Turner syndrome and Down syndrome are prone to lymphatic malformations.

What are the Symptoms of Lymphatic Malformation?

The symptoms of a lymphatic malformation vary based upon location. These include:

  • In the neck, cheeks, mouth, or tongue: a lump or swelling and pain, including difficulty in speaking, ingesting, swallowing and breathing
  • In the eye socket: bulging of the eye and double vision
  • In the chest: narrowing of lung airways, difficulty breathing, wheezing and chest pain
  • In the gastrointestinal tract or pelvis: difficulty passing stools and urinating, rectal bleeding and infections
  • In the kidneys and bladder: pain during urination and blood in urine
  • In bones: an abnormal growth of bone or bone loss

How is a Lymphatic Malformation Diagnosed?

Lymphatic malformation can be diagnosed at two stages:

During pregnancy, through a fetal ultrasound: a diagnostic procedure that uses high frequency sound waves to study the internal body structure.

After birth, the baby can be diagnosed with a thorough medical history and physical examination. In addition, certain tests may be ordered. These include:

  • Ultrasound, X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scan, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • Transillumination: This method involves passage of light through the tissues. The light transmission changes with different tissues.

Treatment of Lymphatic Malformation

Treatment of Lymphatic Malformation depends on the following factors:

  • Your child's age, health, and medical history
  • Severity of the malformation
  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications and procedures

The various treatment options may include:

  • Observation for growth and changes in the lymphatic malformation
  • Antibiotic medications to treat infections
  • Laser therapy: for lymphatic malformations in the mouth or skin
  • Sclerotherapy: injection of medication into the lymph vessel to reduce its size and consequently the lymphatic malformation
  • Incision and drainage of the cysts
  • Surgical removal of the lymphatic malformation through minimally invasive surgery

Risks of Lymphatic Malformation

Lymphatic malformation may recur within a year after surgery, especially if the child was suffering from a large and complicated malformation initially. It is advisable to consult a specialist to learn more about lymphatic malformation and its treatment.