Arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) describe a tangle of blood vessels that connect arteries to veins. Arteries carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the brain and other organs and veins carry oxygen-depleted blood back to the lungs and heart. When the two become connected, this normal and vital flow of oxygenated and unoxygenated blood is disrupted, which can cause numerous problems.
Bodily organs and tissues can suffer from a lack of oxygen, hindering their function and health. These tangled blood vessels are also weaker than normal and can easily rupture, causing bleeding and related issues. For example, a ruptured arteriovenous malformation in the brain (a hemorrhage) can cause a stroke and subsequent brain damage.
Diagnosing Arteriovenous Malformations
Researchers and medical authorities do not know how or why arteriovenous malformations occur. The cause may be genetic, but the condition is not known to be passed down in families. These malformations are typically present at birth, but may not be detected until complications occur later. Some even reach adulthood before the condition is found, although most will develop symptoms much sooner, usually in childhood.
The location of a particular arteriovenous malformation will determine the symptoms you may experience. Unexplained or unexpected bleeding is usually the first symptom, followed by others that can include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Numbness or tingling
- Paralysis in one part of the body
- Loss of consciousness
- Progressive loss of neurological function
- Loss of coordination
- Back pain
- Cognitive difficulties
- Vision problems
Children and teens may develop trouble with learning or behavior due to their struggle with these or other symptoms.
A specialist will use advanced testing and scanning to definitively diagnose an arteriovenous malformation and determine its severity, including:
Your type, size, location and the severity of symptoms produced by your arteriovenous malformation will determine the treatment recommendations your provider may suggest.
Treatments for Arteriovenous Malformations
There are a variety of medicinal and surgical treatments for arteriovenous malformations. If your malformation has bled, triggered other symptoms and is located in a safely treated area, your specialist at The Vascular Birthmark Institute may recommend certain therapies. AMVs located in the brain are often treated with medication. Others may be better treated with surgical procedures. These can include:
- Excision – this method is used when the AVM is located away from organs or other significant areas and a surgeon can easily remove it with little risk of complications.
- Endovascular embolization – this method involves inserting a catheter into the artery near the ATM to access it and inject a substance that closes it. Blood flow to the ATM is reduced and/or rerouted to unaffected vessels.
- Stereotactic radiosurgery – this method of treatment uses beams of highly focused radiation to damage the ATM and stop blood from flowing through it. As with the treatment above, the body reroutes blood flow to unaffected vessels nearby.
If you or your child exhibit excessive bleeding or any of the other symptoms above, schedule an exam and consultation at The Vascular Birthmark Institute as soon as possible. If you have already been diagnosed, our specialists can evaluate your arteriovenous malformation and recommend the best treatment. Contact us today at our New York offices.