Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM)
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An arteriovenous malformation, or AVM, is a complex tangle of arteries and veins that are connected without the normal network of capillaries (small blood vessels) between them.
AVMs are not common and the cause is unknown. They generally develop before birth.
Although AVMs can be present anywhere in the body, they are more common in the brain or on its surface.
Many people don’t exhibit symptoms, but a brain AVM can cause brain damage by reducing the amount of oxygen in affected areas or by pressing or displacing tissue. Symptoms can include:
- Problems with speech, vision or movement
Medications can help with some AVM symptoms.
Rupture that results in bleeding into the brain is the most dangerous risk of an arteriovenous malformation. AVM ruptures often happen to people younger than 40, but they can happen later in life.
When an arteriovenous malformation bleeds, it is a type of hemorrhagic stroke and may be a life-threatening medical emergency. The symptoms for a bleeding AVM are the same as those in hemorrhagic or ischemic strokes:
- Severe, sudden headache
- Confusion or trouble speaking
- Difficulty walking, sudden dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Distorted vision in one or both eyes
- Numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg
Call 911 immediately if you or anyone around you has one or more of these symptoms.
Because they don’t always cause symptoms, diagnosing an arteriovenous malformation before it ruptures can be difficult. They are usually found by accident during brain imaging procedures for an unrelated condition. After an AVM ruptures, it’s critical to locate the AVM and begin treatment as soon as possible. Diagnostic imaging procedures may include:
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
- MRA (magnetic resonance angiography)
- CTA (computed tomography angiogram)
- Cerebral angiography
Treating an AVM
At the University of Maryland Medical Center, neurosurgeons, interventional neuroradiologists and neurologists provide expert treatment for ruptured arteriovenous malformations and hemorrhagic stroke. These include:
We remove the abnormal arteries and veins through an opening in the skull to eliminate further risk of bleeding.
This minimally invasive catheter procedure uses a type of glue to seal the abnormal blood vessels.
Gamma Knife Radiosurgery
This noninvasive procedure uses radiation aimed at the AVM to cause scarring and shrinkage, and reduce the risk of bleeding.
At the end of treatment, patients receive additional imaging tests to ensure no trace of the AVM remains.
Recovery from a ruptured arteriovenous malformation is similar to that for a stroke. At the University of Maryland Rehabilitation & Orthopaedic Institute, we work with you and your family to focus on ability, not disability.
Schedule an Appointment
Schedule a visit with a stroke specialist to assess your risk for AVM. Call 410-328-4323.