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Houston Cranio Facial

Lymphatic Malformations

What is a lymphatic malformation?

Lymphatic malformations or LM are made up of abnormal lymph channels or cysts with lymphatic fluid. Typically the LM never goes away or gets smaller. The old terms for LM were lymphangioma and cystic hygroma. LM can cause enlargement and distortion of normal tissue such as the lips, ears, tongue, or jaw.

Besides causing deformation of the face, neck, or extremities, lymphatic malformations can also cause serious infections. Since the fluid doesn’t normally return back into the circulatory system it collects in the LM and bacteria can thrive in the fluid causing an infection. Due to the recurrent infections, patients can be in and out of the hospital.

What is the treatment of lymphatic malformations?

The two main treatment options focus on destruction of the lymphatic malformation. Sclerotherapy is the first option and means the cysts are deflated by removing the fluid then injected with a sclerosing chemical such as ethanol, doxycycline, sodium tetradecyl sulfate, or OK-432.

The second option is surgically removing the LM. However this solution means disrupting normal lymphatic connections around the LM to remove the abnormality. This can lead to further problems with swelling in the affected area. Other problems include infection of the skin such as cellulitis, blood clots, and/or prolonged lymph drainage into the wound causing healing problems. Therefore lymphatic malformations remain one of the toughest and most unpredictable problems to treat. Dr. Eric Payne, our extensively trained craniofacial plastic surgeon has the experience necessary to determine how to best address this condition and provide optimal treatment.