What is an Arteriovenous Malformation?

An arteriovenous malformation sometimes called an AVM or brain AVM, is a defect in the vascular system. In a functioning vascular system, arteries carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the brain and veins carry the less-oxygenated blood back to the heart.

An arteriovenous malformation is a cluster of abnormal blood vessels, and when one occurs, blood doesn’t complete its mission traveling to and from the heart. Instead, it moves directly from the arteries to the veins. This disrupts blood circulation in and around organs, reducing the amount of oxygen reaching vital tissues in the brain and other parts of the body.

While AVMs are most common in the brain and spinal cord, they can occur anywhere in the body. When they form in the brain, AVMs may cause serious issues including bleeding and an increased risk of seizures, headaches or hemorrhage.

Symptoms of Arteriovenous Malformation

Arteriovenous malformations are often discovered due to a hemorrhage, so a bleed of some sort may be the first symptom. In other cases, however, a person with an arteriovenous malformation may go years with the condition without exhibiting any symptoms or at least not noticeable ones.

According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, approximately 12% of people with AVMs exhibit symptoms that may include:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Language difficulties
  • Loss of coordination
  • Memory issues
  • Muscle weakness or paralysis
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Visual disturbances

Because the condition is typically present at birth, it is sometimes diagnosed in children. Children may experience some distinct symptoms including:

  • Pain
  • Pink, red or purple birthmark
  • Swelling
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Warm skin around the AVM

How Arteriovenous Malformation Is Diagnosed

If a doctor suspects an arteriovenous malformation, he or she will first carefully review medical history, symptoms and perform a physical exam.

To conclusively diagnose an AVM, he or she will then order diagnostic testing to confirm the presence of the malformation. Testing typically includes either a CT or MRI scan. If an arteriovenous malformation is confirmed, an angiogram may also be necessary to determine the type of AVM present and how to best treat it.

Treatment Options for Arteriovenous Malformation

Because hemorrhage is the most common serious complication of arteriovenous malformations, the prevention of hemorrhage is a critical goal of treatment. Treatment may also be used to prevent certain symptoms, including seizures, or to prevent further damage to memory or other neurological functions.

The specific treatment plan for an arteriovenous malformation will be based on the type of AVM and its location, as well as overall health and the symptoms experienced. Treatment options can include medication to alleviate symptoms or prevent seizures, but in severe cases and to completely prevent further complications, surgical treatment may be recommended.

Surgical procedures may include either complete removal of the arteriovenous malformation or the creation of an artificial blood clot that closes the lesion.


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