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.
Arteriovenous Malformation in the Brain
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Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
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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.
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 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.
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:
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.
Endovascular embolization is often used for arteriovenous malformations that are located deeper within the brain. Regular surgery could damage the surrounding tissue in the brain or spinal cord.
A catheter will be guided through your arteries until it reaches the arteriovenous malformation. Then, a substance will be inserted to plug the fistula. This procedure does not destroy the arteriovenous malformation. It reduces the blood flow to the arteriovenous malformation and makes surgery safer.
This procedure uses a beam of powerful radiation. The beam is focused directly on the arteriovenous malformation. The radiation damages the walls of the blood vessels that lead to the arteriovenous malformation. This procedure does not always completely destroy the arteriovenous malformation, especially if it is large.
Sometimes, arteriovenous malformations are best left alone based on their size and location. It is best to speak with your physician about your decision.