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Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) - What is it?

McLaughlin Scrubs SmallBy Mark R. McLaughlin, MD, FACS, FAANS

An Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) is a tangle of abnormal and poorly formed blood vessels (arteries and veins). AVMs are poorly formed blood vessels and because they are not built as strongly as the normal blood vessels, they are more prone to bleeding. Brain AVMs are of special concern because of the damage they cause when they bleed. They are very rare and occur in less than 1% of the general population.

AVMs are normally congenital…, in other words, you are born with an AVM. AVMs can develop anywhere in the body, but they are most common in the brain or spine. The treatment of an AVM is usually done by a neurosurgeon.

The cause of AVMs is unclear, although it is believed that AVMs are due to abnormal development of blood vessels in utero and may be present from birth. Most AVMs are not inherited.

A Brain AVM may be present and produce no symptoms. You could have a brain AVM and be unaware of that fact.

A brain AVM may present no symptoms at all until the AVM ruptures and results in bleeding in the brain.
However, the following symptoms may suggest the presence of an AVM.

  • Seizure
  • Headache
  • Progressive Weakness or Numbness

If the AVM ruptures, there will bleeding into the brain and the symptoms may be similar to a stroke.

  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Weakness, numbness or paralysis
  • Vision loss
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Inability to understand others
  • Severe unsteadiness

You should seek immediate care if you notice signs or symptoms of a brain AVM. A “brain bleed” should be considered a life-threatening emergency situation.

In nonemergency settings, AVMs can be evaluated and diagnosed by a Princeton Brain and Spine Care Physician.  If you would like an evaluation, call for an appointment at one of our 4 convenient locations.  If however you are in an urgent situation, we recommend the following facilities that can handle these types of problems in an emergency setting.

IN NEW JERSEY: Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick or Morristown Memorial Hospital in Morristown.
IN PENNSYLVANIA: St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne and University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.  

Experts in this area of neurosurgery include:
IN NEW JERSEY: Dr. Gaurav Gupta, Director of Cerebrovascular Neurosurgery at Robert Wood John University Hospital
IN PENNSYLVANIA: Dr . Michelle Smith, Director of Cerebrovascular Neurosurgery at University of Pennsylvania.

Dr Mark McLaughlin

LastUpdate: 2016-05-11 17:25:16


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