What is a liver hemangioma?

Hepatic hemangioma is a benign liver condition that can cause a variety of signs and symptoms and, in some cases, affect surrounding organs. People with a liver hemangioma are usually asymptomatic, meaning they experience no noticeable symptoms. In general, people with a liver hemangioma do not require treatment. The presentation of signs and symptoms may require surgery to remove the hemangioma.

The definitive cause of the malformation of the blood vessels that contribute to the development of a hepatic hemangioma is not known. According to some medical organizations, such as the Mayo Clinic, it has been stated that liver hemangiomas can be a condition that an individual is born with, meaning that it is congenital. A hemangioma can originate with one or multiple vessels forming a mass that remains small or mature to induce symptoms and put pressure on surrounding abdominal organs.

In general, a hepatic hemangioma is a condition that will remain undiagnosed unless it is discovered during diagnostic testing or induces symptoms. Symptomatic people will usually undergo a battery of imaging tests that may include a computed tomography (CT) scan and an ultrasound. Other diagnostic tests that may reveal the presence of a liver hemangioma may include single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

When a liver hemangioma matures and puts pressure on surrounding abdominal organs, a variety of signs and symptoms can develop. It is not uncommon for people to develop abdominal discomfort restricted to the right side or experience a loss of appetite. After eating, a person with a liver hemangioma may have nausea and vomiting. The pressure that the mass puts on the liver and surrounding organs can cause one to feel prematurely full, leading to a reduction in food intake, which can contribute to unintentional weight loss.

Most liver hemangiomas do not require treatment. Only when the hemangioma grows can it induce signs and symptoms. Treatment generally depends on the severity of symptom presentation and the size of the mass.

The growth of a hemangioma depends on the blood supply, which can compromise the health of the liver. Hemangiomas that remain unattached to liver tissue can be easily removed with surgery. If the mass adheres to liver tissue, a portion of the liver may need to be removed with the mass. Severe presentations of very large or multiple hemangiomas may require liver transplantation if traditional treatment or surgery is not feasible.

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