What You Should Know about Arteriovenous Malformation
An AVM is a malformed tangle of blood vessels in your brain. The union between arteries and veins lacks the proper shunting of blood through the capillaries.
It is not known why some people have AVMs but people are likely born with them. AVMs are not thought to be inherited or passed to people in a family. Roughly 0.01% of people have an AVM. They are more common in men.
Signs and Symptoms
- Seizures, partial or full.
- Headaches, migraines, or head pain in one spot.
- Weakness or numbness to a body part.
- Eyesight changes, blurred or double vision.
- Changes in your gait.
- Poor coordination.
- Memory loss.
- Mental confusion or lethargy.
The tangle of blood vessels is abnormal. Over time, the vessels may enlarge and burst (rupture) causing bleeding in your brain. If your AVM bleeds, there is a 10-15% risk of death and a 20-30% chance of lasting brain damage. There is also a risk that you may lose some of your body function (movement, speech, or vision). Your doctor will discuss in detail with you the location, size, and risks related to your AVM.
- CT Scan – A type of X-ray that uses a computer to allow doctors to see images of your brain. This can detect if there is any bleeding in the brain.
- MRI – A medical imaging machine that uses a large magnet instead of radiation to see the tissues in your brain.
- Angiogram – A test where X-ray images of your brain are taken while dye is injected into a vessel in your groin area. These X-rays show how the blood flows in and around the AVM.
Your doctor will discuss with you the best treatment options for your AVM. Your options may include one or more of these treatment options. Many patients will have more than one treatment for their AVMs.
- Observation – Your doctor may decide that it is best to watch rather than treat your AVM at this time. You will need to keep your appointments with your doctor and follow up with any tests that may be prescribed. Your doctor will discuss with you if should limit your physical activity or change your daily medicines.
- Surgery – During surgery you will be asleep under anesthesia while part of your skull is opened so your doctor can remove your AVM. You will need to stay in the hospital for a few days and then rest at home after that. Once your AVM is fully removed you will no longer have any risk of bleeding from it.
- Interventional Neurosurgery – This surgery is less invasive and has a shorter recovery time than mentioned above. During this type of surgery a catheter (small tube) travels from a vessel in your groin to the vessel in your brain feeding the AVM. Different materials (glue, microscopic coils, and particles) are injected into the AVM to stop blood from flowing into it and to prevent bleeding.
- Radiosurgery – This surgery is also less invasive and less recovery time is needed. Focused-beam energy sources are sent straight to the AVM to scar it and allow it to “clot off”. It can take some time, even a few years, before the AVM shrinks or goes away.
When to Call Your Doctor Right Away
- Sudden loss of vision, speech, or movement.
- Sudden severe headache that is not normal for you.
- Sudden loss of consciousness, seizure, being confused or dizzy.
Resources and Organizations
P.O. Box 5801
Bethesda, MD 20824
National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
P.O. Box 1968
55 Kenosia Avenue
Danbury, CT 06813-1968
Voice Mail 800-999-NORD (6673)
IRSA (International RadioSurgery Association)
P.O. Box 5186
Harrisburg, PA 17110http://www.irsa.org
Friedlander, R. M., (2007). Arteriovenous Malformations of the Brain. New EnglandJournal of Medicine. 356: 2704-12.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 10/26/2011
Copyright © 10/26/2011 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6644
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