What Is Arteriovenous Malformation?
Primarily a congenital disease, arteriovenous malformation (AVM) is a condition in which one or more arteries that are usually located in the brain or spinal cord connects to one or more veins instead of the heart. As a result, veins affected by AVM are at high risk to rupture and bleed into the brain, spine or other areas where they’re located.
Though considered a congenital disease, AVMs can form later in life. They are not, however, hereditary, and the root causes of AVMs are unknown. Because of this, AVMs are often diagnosed only after a blood vessel hemorrhages or when performing a brain scan to diagnose the root cause of other health issues, such as unexplained or frequent seizures or headaches.
For nearly half of all AVM sufferers, the first symptom is a ruptured vein that causes bleeding in the brain, spine or other area. This can cause confusion, seizures and buzzing in the ears. For AVMs that don’t rupture, symptoms usually start between the ages of 10 and 40 and include the following:
Headache — The pain, which may be severe, can affect the entire head or be localized to a specific part of the head.
Seizures — Seizures are known to cause sudden, involuntary movements or feelings, behavioral changes, or a loss of consciousness.
Paralysis — Depending on where the AVM is located in the body, weakness and even paralysis may be experienced in the affected body part.
Other issues — AVMs can cause trouble with language skills, making it difficult to speak or understand others who are speaking. It may also cause a loss of balance and vision problems.
Ideally, AVM is diagnosed prior to any rupture or bleeding, as the risk of death from a rupture is between 10 and 15 percent. Additionally, an early diagnosis allows physicians to provide optimal outcomes, using the range of current treatment options that include:
Medication — For asymptomatic AVMs and AVMs that are particularly difficult to access, medication therapy can protect against rupture. In addition to medication, a low-stress lifestyle without physical strain helps ensure a steady blood pressure and is necessary for optimal outcome.
Surgery — The neurosurgeon surgically removes the AVMs, taking away the risk of future ruptures and bleeding.
Stereotactic radiosurgery — A high-energy beam is aimed precisely at the AVMs. This beam damages the affected veins, causing them to scar and no longer flow into arteries.
Endovascular neurosurgery — Surgeons access AVMs through a small tube (catheter) and seal off the abnormal blood vessels with special materials. As with stereotactic radiosurgery, this prevents flow between veins and arteries.
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