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Arteriovenous Malformations (AVM)

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Arteriovenous malformations, or AVMs, affect about 300,000 Americans. They may show up anywhere in the body. When AVMs develop in the brain, the symptoms are often variable.

What are AVMs?

AVMs are flaws in the body’s circulatory system, which are believed to develop while still in the womb or soon after birth. AVMs are not tumors. They are benign nests or tangles of arteries and veins that often have an abnormal pattern of blood flow both inside and outside of the malformation. Depending on the type of blood flow within and around an AVM, different symptoms can occur including bleeding and seizures.

Who develops AVMs?

AVMs can affect anyone, but they’re more common in males. Some evidence has also suggested a family history of the condition may increase the risk of being born with it. Symptoms of an AVM usually appear before age 50.

What are the symptoms of AVMs?

Most people with an AVM don’t exhibit symptoms. For the estimated 12 percent of those with AVMs who do have symptoms, the severity varies. If someone has an AVM that hasn’t bled, they may experience:

  • headaches
  • seizures
  • weakness or numbness
  • a whooshing sound in the ear

For some people with an AVM, the first symptoms they experience are those of a stroke. These include:

  • confusion
  • difficulty walking
  • vision problems
  • severe dizziness

How are AVMs diagnosed?

Physical and neurological exams are performed but may not find the problem. Computed tomography (CT) scans of the head, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), cerebral angiogram (contrast dye and X-ray are used to analyze blood flow in the brain), electroencephalogram (EEG, or a measure of the brain’s electrical activity) and magnetic resonance angiography (MRA, which looks at blood vessels in the brain) can help physicians obtain a clearer picture.

How are AVMs treated?

Treatment depends on the nature of the AVM, its size, your age, whether you plan on getting pregnant and your symptoms. To help you make an informed decision, your physician will discuss with you the potential benefits and risks of treatment as compared to observation alone (no treatment). Treatment options include open brain surgery to remove the bad connection between arteries and veins; embolization, which blocks the blood flow in the AVM to lessen the chance of bleeding; and Gamma Knife, which sends radiation to the problem area and hopes to close the AVM down over time. For those people with seizures, anticonvulsants may also be prescribed.

For more information about AVM treatment or to set up a consultation, call The Gamma Knife Center at The Valley Hospital at 201-634-5677 or complete the contact form.Learn more about the Valley Gamma Knife Center on our website.

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