Arteriovenous Malformations

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.

  • Causes

    The exact cause of arteriovenous malformations is unknown.

  • Definition

    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
    AVM brain blood vessels
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

    Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

    • Angiography or arteriography
    • Computed axial tomography (CT scan or CAT scan)
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
    • Magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA)

    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.

  • Prevention

    There is no way to prevent an arteriovenous malformation. To help reduce your chances of hemorrhaging, take the following steps:


    • Learn about ways to avoid high blood pressure, such as:

      • Avoid heavy lifting.
      • Stop smoking.
      • Maintain a healthy weight.
      • Limit alcohol.
      • Eat a healthy diet
        that is low in sodium.
    • Avoid blood thinners, if possible.
    • Continue to see your doctor and a neurologist to regularly check the condition of your arteriovenous malformation.

  • Risk Factors

    Risk factors that increase your chance of getting arteriovenous malformations include:

    • Family history—some types of arteriovenous malformations are from genetic defects that can be passed on from one generation to the next.
    • History of bleeding—some types of arteriovenous malformations are linked to an increased risk of bleeding. People with unexplained recurrent bleeding may be at higher risk of having arteriovenous malformations.
    • Smoking

  • Symptoms

    There are a number of symptoms that you may have if you have an arteriovenous malformation. Symptoms vary from person to person. They also depend on the location of the arteriovenous malformation in your body.

    Symptoms may include:

    • Seizures
    • Headache, especially on one side of the head
    • Muscle weakness
    • Loss of movement on one side of the body
    • Lightheadedness
    • Unable to perform movements, but not due to loss of movement
    • Loss of coordination, especially when walking
    • Sudden, severe back pain
    • Difficulty speaking or understanding language
    • Loss of senses
    • Visual problems
    • Memory loss
    • Difficulty thinking or mental confusion
    • Hallucinations

  • Treatment

    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:

    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:

    Sometimes, arteriovenous malformations are best left alone based on their size and location. It is best to speak with your physician about your decision.