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Diagnosis / Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM)

What is Arteriovenous Malformation?

Arteriovenous malformation (AVM) is a condition that affects the blood vessels in your circulatory system. In the human body, arteries carry oxygenated blood from your heart to your brain, while veins carry deoxygenated blood from the brain back to the heart. If you suffer from AVM, it means that the veins and arteries are tangled, interfering with your body’s ability to properly circulate blood.

The circulatory system is composed of arteries, veins and capillaries. The job of the capillaries is to connect the arteries and veins. In the case of an AVM, the arteries and veins are connected directly, which causes the arteries to divert blood directly to the veins and bypass the brain tissue that needs the blood.

Arteriovenous malformations are rare, and the cause is unknown. They are congenital conditions, meaning that they are present from birth. They can occur anywhere in the body, but are found most often in the brain or spinal cord.

Symptoms of AVM

Symptoms of an arteriovenous malformation vary, depending on the size and location of the AVM, as well the size of the blood vessels affected by the AVM. Most people who have an arteriovenous malformation in their brain tend to have few symptoms, which means that their AVM may go unnoticed and therefore undiagnosed until life-threatening symptoms appear, including:

  • Headaches
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Bleeding on the brain, most often a subarachnoid hemorrhage
  • Neurological issues, such as numbness, weakness or tingling concentrated on one side of the body

If you suffer from an AVM in your spinal cord or limbs, you may experience:

  • Loss of coordination
  • Muscle weakness
  • Temporary limb paralysis

These symptoms can be a sign of an urgent medical issue stemming form AVM. AVM prevents the tissues around it from getting oxygen required to thrive, which can weaken the affected arteries and veins, and eventually cause them to rupture. A ruptured AVM in the brain can result in a brain hemorrhage, brain damage, or even a fatal stroke.

Diagnosis and Treatment of AVM

The greatest danger posed by an arteriovenous malformation is the potential for hemorrhaging, therefore obtaining a correct diagnosis and undergoing appropriate treatment is vital. Initially the diagnosis can be made by CT or MRI scanning. However, the most effective way to evaluate an AVM, especially one located in the brain, is by performing a cerebral angiogram. Not only can this test detect the AVM, but it can provide information to your doctor about the size, location, and flow patterns, and if there are associated aneurysms. Once you have been correctly diagnosed, an AVM will require a multidisciplinary team to determine treatment options.

There are several treatments available, each of which depends on the size, type and location of the AVM. When deciding if your condition is treatable, your doctor will consider these factors, as well as whether the AVM is in an area of your brain that is easily accessed for treatment. Some of the treatment options for an AVM include radiation, surgery, and interventional neuroradiology, all of which can be effective depending on the severity of your condition.

If you have been diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation, call IVC today at 503-612-0498 to schedule an appointment with one of our team of experienced interventional radiologists.

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