Spinal AVMs

1 What are Spinal Arteriovenous Malformations?

Spinal arteriovenous malformation (AVM) is a rare, abnormal tangle of blood vessels in the spinal cord.

If left untreated spinal arteriovenous malformations can lead to permanent damage of spinal cord. Blood vessels supply spinal cord with required nutrients and oxygen for production of energy and normal functioning.

The veins drain poorly oxygenated blood from the spinal cord to the heart and then to lungs for oxygenation.

This process when disrupted can cause serious problems such as tissue necrosis or tissue death, hemorrhage due to rupture of blood vessels of spinal cord.

This condition can be treated by surgery to halt or possibly reverse the damage caused to spinal cord.

2 Symptoms

There are few significant symptoms that occur due to spinal arteriovenous malformations. They vary according to severity and localization and appear in people during their 20’s. Symptoms are:

  • problems with walking,
  • unable to climb stairs,
  • numbness in legs,
  • feeling of tingling or sudden pain in legs,
  • weakness in one or both sides of body,
  • absence of sensations in the legs,
  • difficulty in urination or defecation,
  • lower back pain,
  • headache,
  • neck rigidity (unable to touch chin to chest bone),
  • sensitivity to light (allergic reaction to light).

3 Causes

There is no known cause of spinal arteriovenous malformation and it is still under research.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Spinal arteriovenous malformation is difficult to diagnose because it is very similar to other spinal conditions like:

For proper diagnosis, the following tests are recommended:

  • MRI - an image is produced by using electromagnetic waves and abnormality can be detected.
  • Angiography - used to determine location and characteristics of the malformed vessels.

5 Treatment

The only treatment options in the case of spinal arteriovenous malformation is surgery in which the malformed vessels along with surrounding tissue are removed.

Before surgery, a procedure called endovascular embolization is required to be done to reduce bleeding during surgery.

If the AVM is not completely, radiation therapy is recommended. 

6 Prevention

This condition cannot be prevented because there is no known cause of spinal arteriovenous malformations. 

7 Risks and Complications

No known risk factors for spinal arteriovenous malformations exist. Complications of untreated spinal arteriovenous malformations are as follows:

  • problems with movement,
  • improper sensations (pain, tingling and numbness),
  • spinal coloumn deformity,
  • aneurysm (dilated blood vessel),
  • high pressure in the venous blood vessels,
  • edema (accumulation of fluid in tissues),
  • hypoxia (lack of oxygen in the body),
  • spinal cord infarction,
  • hemorrhage (bleeding).

If left untreated, this condition can also be the cause of death.

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