Abnormal Collection of Blood Vessels in Brain or Spine

Vascular malformations are abnormalities in the blood vessels. When vascular malformations occur in the brain or spine, they are called arteriovenous malformations (AVMs), an abnormal collection of blood vessels that disrupts blood flow from the brain to the heart.

At Penn State Health, we have the experience and technology to diagnose and treat vascular malformations like AVMs. The experts at the Penn State Neuroscience Institute also treat other blood vessel abnormalities, including cavernous malformations and spinal dural arteriovenous fistulas.

Types of Vascular Malformations

Vascular malformations of the brain or spine are a rare disorder found in only 1% of the population. They are thought to develop before birth, but often aren’t recognized until later in life. It is common for people not to know that they have an AVM for many years, or even until they reach adulthood. The cause of AVMs are unknown, but the treatment options have advanced significantly in the last decade. Penn State Health specialists will often use a combination of microsurgery, endovascular embolization and stereotactic radiosurgery to completely cure the malformation.

Types of brain or spine malformations include:

  • Brain Arteriovenous Malformations (AVMs) – an abnormal grouping of connecting arteries and veins in the brain. The cluster disrupts the normal flow of arteries taking oxygen-rich blood to the brain and veins carrying blood back to the lungs and heart.
  • Cranial Dural Arteriovenous Fistulae (dAVF) – an abnormal connection between veins and arteries in the membrane that covers the brain. These malformations develop and are not a disorder you have at birth.
  • Cerebral Cavernous Malformations – a collection of blood vessels that create a lesion and slow blood flow in the brain. They may not show symptoms for many years until they begin to bleed, causing pressure on the brain or nerves.
  • Spine Arteriovenous Malformations (AVMs) – an abnormal grouping of connecting arteries and veins in the spine. The grouping disrupts the normal flow of arteries taking oxygen-rich blood to the brain and veins carrying blood back to the lungs and heart.
  • Spinal Dural Arteriobenous Fistulae (dAVF) – an abnormal connection between veins and arteries in the membrane that covers the spinal cord. These malformations develop and are not a disorder you have at birth.

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook

Symptoms of a vascular malformation depend on the location of the lesion. Symptoms for a brain AVM include:

  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Dizziness
  • Seizures
  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Suddenly can’t move one side of the body

Symptoms for a spinal AVM include:

  • Abnormal control of bowel or bladder
  • Stiffness in legs, trouble walking
  • Sudden back pain without trauma or effort
  • Sudden paralysis in legs

If you are experiencing AVM symptoms, your physician will order one or more of the following diagnostic tests:

  • Angiogram or X-Ray of blood vessels
  • Computed Tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

If you are diagnosed with a brain or spine AVM, the skilled physicians at Penn State Neuroscience Institute offer a full range of treatment options. Penn State Health experts use a multidisciplinary approach, and complex cases are reviewed by physicians from all major treatment areas to develop an individualized treatment plan. They will often use a combination of intraoperative angiogram, microsurgery, endovascular embolization and stereotactic radiosurgery (Gamma Knife radiosurgery).

Our Experts in Care

The experts at Penn State Neuroscience Institute specialize in treating some of the most complicated diseases of the brain and spinal cord. We are committed to providing world-class patient care with innovative therapies and surgeries to treat vascular malformations.

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Why Choose Penn State Health for Care

Cutting-Edge Clinical Trials

The neurosurgery experts at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Penn State Neuroscience Institute are committed to offering our patients the latest treatment options, including access to cutting-edge clinical trials. Our superb clinical research team includes dedicated research nurses, clinical trial coordinators and data analysts and gives patients the opportunity to participate in the latest clinical trials. Learn more about new Penn State Health clinical trials at StudyFinder.

Advanced Microsurgery

The neurosurgeons at Penn State Health specialize in minimally invasive surgical techniques that can make your recovery time shorter. Our team uses traditional surgical techniques under high magnification or the use of robotic assistance to map and plan the surgical procedure and computerized guidance to remove the AVM. Microsurgery results in an immediate cure for some patients. If the malformation is too large for microsurgery, other treatments may be necessary.

Leading-Edge Technology for Vascular Malformations

Our Penn State Neurosurgery team offer our patients the most advanced techniques and technologies, including:

  • CO2 laser surgery
  • Endovascular embolization
  • Intra-operative angiogram
  • Gamma knife radiosurgery
  • Microsurgery use robotic-assistance (ROSA One system)
  • Radiation

Comprehensive Stroke Center Recognized for Quality

Penn State Stroke Center was the first one in central Pennsylvania to achieve status as a certified Comprehensive Stroke Center through The Joint Commission. This certification means we have the ability to treat the most complex cases through advanced neurosurgery techniques. This designation represents the highest level of stroke center certification awarded and recognizes the quality of care at Penn State Health.

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