Arteriovenous Malformations

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Arteriovenous malformations (AVM) of the brain and spinal cord are tangles of abnormal blood vessels. They can form wherever arteries and veins exist. The ones that form in the brain or spinal cord have the most serious symptoms.

Risk factors that increase your chance of getting arteriovenous malformations include:

  • Family history
  • History of unexplained recurrent bleeding
  • Smoking

Symptoms of an AVM

Symptoms vary from person to person and depend on their location; they may include:

  • Seizures
  • Headache, especially on one side of the head
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of movement on one side of the body
  • Lightheadedness
  • Unable to perform movements, but not due to loss of movement
  • Loss of coordination, especially when walking
  • Sudden, severe back pain
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding language
  • Loss of senses
  • Visual problems
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty thinking or mental confusion
  • Hallucinations

AVM Diagnosis & Treatment

Images that detect AVMs include:

  • Angiography or arteriography
  • CT scan or CAT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA)

Gamma Knife radiosurgery is very successful at treating small to medium-sized AVMs. Obliteration (destruction) rates for AVMs less than 3 cm in diameter are about 80-85 percent. This technology allows us to treat patients with large AVMS, which usually can’t be operated on. You may need to undergo radiosurgery a second time if the AVM decreased in volume but still remains. 

We use a staged approach for extremely large AVMs. Your doctor divides one large AVM into two parts, treating one part in the first session and the other part three to six months later. Your doctor will follow up:

  • Every six months with an MRI scan
  • After three years, with an angiogram to determine if the AVM has been destroyed

Prevent Hemorrhage

There is no way to prevent an arteriovenous malformation. To help reduce your chances of hemorrhaging, take the following steps:

  • Learn about ways to avoid high blood pressure, such as:
    • Avoid heavy lifting
    • Stop smoking
    • Maintain a healthy weight
    • Limit alcohol intake
    • Eat a healthy diet that is low in sodium
  • Avoid blood thinners, if possible
  • Continue to see your doctor and a neurologist to regularly check the condition of your AVM


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.