Treatment Options for Spinal Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM)

Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: January 25, 2016

Treatment Options for Spinal Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM)

Spinal arteriovenous malformation, simply referred to as spinal AVM, is a rare spinal condition categorized by an abnormal tangle of blood vessels on, in or near the spinal canal. This condition can be extremely problematic, as proper working blood vessels help transmit oxygen-rich blood to your capillaries, where the oxygen is used by the spinal cord. Oxygen-depleted blood then passes through your veins and back to the heart and lungs where it again becomes infused with oxygen. In patients with AVM, the blood passes directly from your arteries to your veins, meaning the spinal canal cannot get the oxygen it needs for healthy growth.

Spinal AVM Causes and Symptoms

Unfortunately, despite advances in medical research, not much is known about the causes of spinal AVM. The most likely causes are trauma to the spine and a genetic or birth defect, but researchers believe there could be other underlying causes. Also, because the condition occurs in similar rates in men and women, there are no known risk factors for spinal AVM development.

Health data shows that symptoms generally appear in patients in their 20s, but about 20 percent of cases involve patients under the age of 16. Some symptoms that arise include:

  • Numbness or tingling in your legs
  • Pain and difficulty climbing stairs
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Lack of sensation in the legs
  • Pain in the lower back
  • Headaches
  • Stiffness in the neck
  • Sensitivity to light

If you experience any of the above symptoms, set up a consultation with a spine surgeon.

Treatments for Spinal AVM

Because of the potentially serious side effects, surgery is often needed if you’ve been diagnosed with spinal AVM. Prior to going under the knife, your doctor may recommend that you receive an endovascular embolization, which is a procedure to reduce your likelihood of bleeding during surgery or to decrease the size of the AVM so surgery has a better chance of success. An endovascular embolization involves inserting a catheter into an artery in your leg, which is threaded to an artery that is feeding into the AVM. A substance is then injected which inhibits the flow of blood to the AVM, thus reducing its size and making it easier for the surgeon to operate.

Once the endovascular embolization is complete, your doctor will make a minimally invasive incision and remove the AVM. Generally the site can be fully addressed during surgery, but if it’s unsafe to remove the whole AVM, your doctor may recommend a round of radiation therapy to help shrink the site.

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