A cerebral arteriovenous malformation (AVM) is an abnormal connection between the arteries and veins in the brain that usually forms before birth (congenital). AVMs can vary in size and location in the brain.

The cause of cerebral AVM is unknown. Brain tissue between the vessels is usually abnormal and often scarred from previous tiny hemorrhages of which the person may be unaware or may have thought was a bad headache.

An AVM rupture can occur because of pressure and damage to the blood vessel. This causes blood to leak (hemorrhage) into the brain or surrounding tissues and reduces blood flow to the brain.

Cerebral AVMs are rare. Although the condition is present at birth, symptoms may occur at any age. Ruptures happen most often in people ages 15 to 20. It can also occur later in life. Some people with an AVM also have brain aneurysms.

Arteriovenous Malformation Symptoms

Few warning signs precede an AVM until bleeding occurs.

Recurrent headaches can be an indication of a small amount of bleeding in an AVM prior to a serious hemorrhage. Other symptoms include seizures and neurological problems such as paralysis or loss of speech, memory or vision, and changes in mental capacity, depending on the location of the AVM.

It is important to discuss any symptoms with your primary care physician to determine if a neurosurgeon is needed.

Arteriovenous Malformation Diagnosis

In addition to physical and neurological examinations, neurosurgeons may request other tests such as:

Arteriovenous Malformation Treatment

AVMs are often emergencies by the time they are discovered. The aim of treatment once a hemorrhage has occurred is to stop the bleeding and damage to the brain and to reduce the risk of recurrence.

The weeks immediately following the hemorrhage are most important since that is the period when complications occur and re-rupture is most likely.

Treatment options for AVMs include:

  • AVM gluing - In this minimally invasive procedure, your surgeon will insert a thin tube into the groin area and use imaging technology to guide the tube directly to the AVM. Your surgeon will inject a glue-like substance through the tube into the AVM to stop blood from leaking.
  • Gamma Knife Radiosurgery for AVM - Using the most sophisticated computer imaging technology, our specialist team identifies the exact location of the AVM and then beams high frequency radiation waves directly at it. The radiation causes the AVM to clot and then disappear. This treatment targets the AVM precisely and does not affect surrounding brain tissue. Learn more about Gamma Knife.
  • AVM surgery - In some cases, AVMs need to be surgically removed. Our highly trained neurosurgeons use advanced computer imaging to locate the AVM. They carefully remove a portion of the skull to access the AVM and then surgically remove it.