Vascular malformations are made up of a group of abnormal blood vessels that have been present since birth. Each type of vascular malformation is named for the blood vessels that are involved.
Vascular malformations are made up of a group of abnormal blood vessels that have been present since birth. Each type of vascular malformation is named for the blood vessels that are involved. The vascular malformations (sometimes called AVMs) are divided into two broad categories:
- High flow (involving the arteries and veins)
- Low flow (mainly involving the veins and sometimes the lymph vessels)
Vascular malformations can occur anywhere in the body and can involve any organ. There can be a birthmark associated with the vascular malformation.
The causes of vascular malformations are unknown, but in most cases they are not hereditary (not passed down through a patient's family).
The risk factors for vascular malformations are unknown, but appear to be affected by hormones. Vascular malformations often grow during puberty, pregnancy or with the use of oral contraceptives.
Symptoms will depend on the type of vascular malformation and its location. Sometimes, they cause no symptoms. When they do cause problems, common symptoms include:
- Abnormal functioning of an organ involved with the vascular malformation
How the malformation is diagnosed will depend on where the malformation is located in the body. Common diagnostic tools include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Radio waves and magnetic fields are used to show areas of abnormal blood vessels that make up the vascular malformation and its location relative to other tissue and organs.
- Computed Tomography (CT) scan: Special X-rays are made after the injection of a contrast agent – similar to a dye – into an arm vein to identify the vascular malformation as an abnormal collection of blood vessels
- Ultrasound: The ultrasound´s high-frequency sound waves provide the doctor with a picture of the blood flow in the blood vessels affected by the malformation.
- Angiography: A catheter is inserted into the artery from the groin or arm, and a dye is injected through the catheter while X-rays are taken to show the abnormal collection of blood vessels in the involved area.
The treatment will depend on the type of vascular malformation a patient has. Common treatments include:
- Laser therapy: Birthmarks can be removed by treating them with a laser.
- Sclerotherapy/Embolization: For vein and artery malformations, a chemical solution and/or particles are injected into the abnormal blood vessels to block them.
- Surgery: For certain malformations that are localized in fatty tissue, surgery is performed to remove the malformation.