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Heart drug treats strawberry birthmarks in infants

A new dermatology study supports the treatment of infantile haemangiomas with oral propranolol. Propranolol is used to treat tremors, angina, high blood pressure and other heart conditions.

According to dermatology researchers about 3 to 10 percent of infants develop an infantile haemangioma, which is a benign overgrowth of blood vessel cells in the skin. They occur most commonly on the face, but can involve any part of the skin. They form while the baby is still in mother’s womb, change rapidly over a few months, but tend to slow in growth around 6-9 months. Haemangiomas can cause health issues when formed near the airways (nose, mouth and throat), or close to the eyes, or the inner organs.

In the study, a group of 460 infants of age 1 to 5 months old with infantile haemangioma were randomly assigned to take one of four doses of propranolol, or a placebo.

Paediatric Dermatologist Dr Jemima Mellerio welcomed the study’s findings and said that although oral propranolol has become a widely accepted dermatology treatment for complicated infantile haemangiomas over recent years, there has been a lack of information about the optimal dosage and duration of treatment.

Propranolol works by starving the haemangioma of blood, stopping its growth, and leading to the cells in the birthmark dying.

“This paper describes a randomised, double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial of over 450 infants to assess the efficacy of oral propranolol at different doses and for 3 or 6 months, ” said Dr Jemima Mellerio.

“Results suggest that treatment with 3mg/kg/day for 6 months gives optimal resolution of haemangiomas, and that side effects are uncommon and occur no more frequently with propranolol than with placebo.”

“Although safe and well-tolerated, treatment with oral propranolol is usually reserved for complicated haemangiomas which cause functional problems or which are likely to leave a significant cosmetic defect once they have resolved.”

In 2014 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved propranolol for the dermatology treatment of infantile haemangioma.

The lead study author is Dr. Christine Leaute-Labreze, a paediatric dermatologist at the University of Bordeaux in France. The study was funded by Pierre Fabre Dermatologie, the French dermatology drug company that makes propranolol for infants. Full details of the dermatology study can be found in The New England Journal of Medicine.

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