Vertebral haemangiomas are the most common benign vertebral neoplasms. They are usually asymptomatic and incidentally detected due to their characteristic features on imaging for other reasons. Rarely, they can be locally aggressive (see: aggressive vertebral haemangioma).
Please refer on the article on primary intraosseous haemangioma for a general discussion in this entity.
The incidence of vertebral haemangiomas is about 10% at autopsy 1. The majority of haemangiomas are incidentally noted on routine radiographs of the spine. Often, small haemangiomas cannot be visualized on radiographs and are found with more advanced imaging such as CT or MRI, or upon gross dissection. The occurrence of vertebral haemangiomas are seen slightly more in females for unknown reasons and are more symptomatic in the 4th decade of life.
Most haemangiomas are asymptomatic. Collapse of the vertebral body or encroachment into the neural canal are some of the classic causes of pain. An increase in activity can cause the vertebral haemangioma to become painful, such as starting to exercise, housework and such. This is most likely due to axial loading through the body of the vertebra.
They are composed of vascular spaces which causes a displacement of bone. In some cases, specifically capillary types, lytic erosion into the epidural space can occur, however rare 2. They are slow growing and most are not symptomatic.
The majority of all vertebral haemangiomas occur in the thoracic spine, but can be found throughout the spine.
The classic “corduroy cloth” appearance is strongly associated with vertebral haemangiomas.
Axial CT will show a “polka dotted” appearance due to the thickened vertebral trabeculae 3-4.
MRI shows extraosseous components better and depicts the haemangioma components as fat and water. Thickened trabeculae appear as low signal areas in both T1 and T2 images.
- T1: high intensity signal due to its fat component
- T2: bright/high intensity signal, usually greater than on T1, due to its high water content
- T1 C+: significant enhancement seen due to high vascularity
Treatment and prognosis
Treatment for most haemangiomas is not necessary. When neurological deficits or severe pain treatment is necessary. In symptomatic lesions, there are many options which must be weighed. Radiotherapy, balloon kyphoplasty or transarterial embolisation with associated laminectomy are some of those options 5. Serious bleeding can be a complication so care must be taken when undergoing open procedures.
- usually have decreased signal intensity on T1 and increased signal intensity on T2
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