Arteriovenous malformations (AVM) are congenital, resulting from abnormal connections between arteries and veins. Patients with AVM are missing the normal network of tiny vessels (capillaries) that connect arteries and veins. The resulting tangle of abnormal vessels allows multiple direct commutations between arteries that take oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the brain and veins that carry the oxygen-depleted blood back to the lungs and heart.
Although always present at birth, AVM may not develop into noticeable lesions for several years or even into adulthood. The symptoms and signs of AVM will depend on the location of the malformation, but patients should be aware that:
- AVMs can develop anywhere on the body, but most often on the brain and spinal cord
- The lesions can affect the skin, muscle, or bone
- The lesion can become visibly enlarged and cyst-like in appearance
- Sudden and severe bleeding episodes can occur with superficial lesions
- AVMs can often be misdiagnosed, and in many cases, patients discover their diagnosis after receiving treatment for a different disorder
Without treatment, these types of malformations continue to grow and may invade locally into surrounding tissues.
Treatment Options for Arteriovenous Malformations
Prompt diagnosis and management is necessary to try and maintain control and reverse vascular changes resulting from AVM.
Due to the aggressive nature of arteriovenous malformations, treatment often begins with embolization to cut off the blood supply to the AVM, in order to control the progression of the lesion, as well as surgery reserved for removal of localized lesions. For larger lesions that cause disfigurement, surgical removal of the lesion is combined with cosmetic repair to give patients normal contour and symmetry.