Arteriovenous Malformations (AVM)

An arteriovenous malformation (AVM) is a tangle of blood vessels in the brain. “Arteriovenous” refers to the arteries and veins. The term “malformation” is used to describe a deformity that shouldn’t be occurring.

Understanding an AVM

An AVM is an abnormal connection between your veins and arteries. In an AVM, your arteries connect directly to your veins without capillaries in between. This disrupts normal blood flow.

Your veins hold low-pressure blood flow as it heads back to the heart. They may not be able to handle the high-pressure blood coming directly from the arteries. As a result, they might stretch and bleed. The surrounding tissues may also be damaged because they aren’t getting the oxygen and nutrients normally processed by the capillaries.

Endovascular Aneurysm Coiling

Warning Signs

An AVM may occur on the brain or spinal cord. Common symptoms of an AVM include seizures, headaches, or stroke. An AVM may cause other neurological problems such as paralysis, loss of speech, or loss of vision.

Brain AVM signs and symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Loss of speech
  • Loss of vision

Spinal cord AVM signs and symptoms:

  • Weakness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Inability to move a limb

AVM Treatment Options

An AVM is typically treated using a combination of approaches. Treatment may include endovascular embolization, surgery, or radiotherapy. In some cases, the first stage is to block off the AVM’s blood supply, making surgical removal faster and safer. Treatment for AVMs is often done to prevent bleeding or manage symptoms.

  • Endovascular embolization is a common treatment for AVMs. During this procedure, we guide a catheter through an artery to the AVM. Once there, we inject a glue-like substance or insert small metal coils into the affected area where the arteries and veins meet. This stops the abnormal blood flow. Embolization is usually used along with surgery or radiotherapy.
  • Surgery involves accessing the brain or spinal cord and removing the AVM. Surgery is most appropriate when the AMV is small or located in a non-critical area of the brain.
  • Radiotherapy uses highly focused radiation directed at the AVM. Over time the vessels will scar and close, stopping abnormal blood flow.

Your doctor may recommend ongoing observation, instead of treatment. This may be the appropriate choice if your AVM is small and isn’t causing other health problems.

Hope for Patients with AVMs

If you or someone you care about has an AVM, consult the specialists at Aurora BayCare. We are continually pioneering new treatment, diagnosis, and prevention approaches for cerebrovascular diseases and disorders.

Our dedicated team of neurosurgeons and other expert clinicians are here to help you understand your options and provide a clear path forward.


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