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Arteriovenous Malformation in the Brain  
AVM brain blood vessels

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Definition  

Arteriovenous malformations (AVM) of the brain and spinal cord are tangles of abnormal blood vessels. They can form wherever arteries and veins exist. The ones that form in the brain or spinal cord have the most serious symptoms.

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Causes  

The exact cause of arteriovenous malformations is unknown.

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Risk Factors  

Risk factors that increase your chance of getting arteriovenous malformations include:

  • Family history—some types of arteriovenous malformations are from genetic defects that can be passed on from one generation to the next.
  • History of bleeding—some types of arteriovenous malformations are linked to an increased risk of bleeding. People with unexplained recurrent bleeding may be at higher risk of having arteriovenous malformations.
  • Smoking
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Symptoms  

There are a number of symptoms that you may have if you have an arteriovenous malformation. Symptoms vary from person to person. They also depend on the location of the arteriovenous malformation in your body.

Symptoms may include:

  • Seizures
  • Headache, especially on one side of the head
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of movement on one side of the body
  • Lightheadedness
  • Unable to perform movements, but not due to loss of movement
  • Loss of coordination, especially when walking
  • Sudden, severe back pain
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding language
  • Loss of senses
  • Visual problems
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty thinking or mental confusion
  • Hallucinations
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Diagnosis  

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

You may be referred to a specialist for an exam and treatment. There are a number of specialists who focus on arteriovenous malformation such as neurologists, neurosurgeons, and interventional neuroradiologists.

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Treatment  

The goal of treatment is to prevent hemorrhaging/bleeding. Hemorrhaging can lead to strokes, which occur due to lack of blood flow or increased pressure. Your doctor will need to determine if your arteriovenous malformation has bled, if it is not too large, and if it is in an area that can be easily reached and treated.

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:

Medication  

Medication may be taken to ease the symptoms you may be having, such as headache, back pain, and seizures. This does not remove the arteriovenous malformation.

Surgery  

You must work with your doctor to decide whether you’d like to have surgery to treat your arteriovenous malformation. Leaving an arteriovenous malformation untreated may lead to serious complications. However, there is always a risk of nervous system damage with surgery.

There are three different types of surgery available. Choosing a surgery type will depend on the size and location of the arteriovenous malformation. The types of surgery include:

Conventional Surgery  

This standard surgery involves operating on the area of the brain or spinal cord where the arteriovenous malformation is located. This procedure is the most thorough treatment for arteriovenous malformations.