Signs & Symptoms of an AVM

Let's look at what an arteriovenous malformation is; incidence and prevalence of the condition; and common signs and symptoms. Then we will briefly discuss how to get AVM treatment.

What is an AVM?

AVMs, short for arteriovenous malformations, are vascular system problems that involve a nidus (abnormal blood vessel amalgamation) with feeding arteries that forego a capillary bed and connect straight to a drainage network. Arteries are responsible for carrying the oxygen and other nutrients within the blood outward – from the heart to all other cells of your body. Veins are the inward carriers, bringing the blood back to the heart after its oxygen and other supplies have been delivered. Moving in between the arteries and veins are the capillaries. When an AVM develops, its mishmash of connected veins and arteries without capillaries stands dangerously in the way of the body's ability to perform circulation.

An arteriovenous malformation may form in any part of your body. However, it most often occurs in the spinal cord or brain. The majority of people with AVMs in their spinal cord or brain do not have very many symptoms, as indicated by the US National Library of Medicine. However, these types of AVMs can lead to headaches, seizures, and the other symptoms discussed below.

As suggested by the prevalence and incidence figures (also below), this condition is not common. Typically this health disorder arises either during pregnancy or a short time following birth. They can be identified by doctors using imaging tests.

Beyond headaches and seizures, spinal and brain AVMs can have devastating consequences if they bleed. Since blood vessels and the brain are so closely linked as an embryo develops, AVMs often suggest that there may be issues with brain tissue as well.

Note that brain AVMs can damage brain tissue over time. The effects slowly build up, often resulting in symptoms during early adulthood. Once a person gets to middle age, though, brain AVMs tend to remain stable and are less likely to cause symptoms.

How often does an AVM occur?

According to statistics from the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS):

Signs & symptoms of AVMs

It is typical for a cerebral AVM not to present any symptoms at all up until the point of hemorrhage. The patient may, however, notice symptoms in the absence of a rupture, such as:

A dural AVM could exhibit the following symptoms:

A spinal AVM may have symptoms including:

The sign of a brain AVM that occurs the most often and is the most potentially destructive is a subarachnoid or intracranial hemorrhage. If a hemorrhage does occur, you need to act right away. Sadly, the AVM is not detected in almost half of patients until a hemorrhage has occurred. In the event of hemorrhage, symptoms may include:

Generally speaking, some pregnant women may have worsened symptoms due to changes in blood volume and blood pressure.

A vein of Galen malformation (VOGM) is one type of AVM. In a VOGM, signs and symptoms emerge soon after birth. Fluid buildup within the brain and swelling of the head can occur because of the primary blood vessel that is part of this brain AVM. Signs and symptoms include congestive heart failure; swollen veins that are visible on the scalp; seizures; and failure to thrive.

Treatment for AVM

Are you worried that you or your child might be suffering from an arteriovenous malformation? At Acadiana Neurosurgery, we offer different treatment options using state-of-the-art technology to help patients get optimal results. Learn more.

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