Arteriovenous Malformations (AVMs) of the Head and Neck

Overview

Arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) of the head and neck are defects of the blood vessels that happen when a fetus is growing in the uterus. Blood vessels present themselves as a tangled mass of arteries and veins. AVMs lack the capillary bed that normally exists in the common area where the arteries and veins lie in close proximity. An AVM may hemorrhage, which may lead to life-threatening complications.

AVMs can occur anywhere in the body and have been found in the arms, hands, legs, feet, lungs, heart, liver and kidneys. Half of all AVMs are located in the brain, brain stem, and spinal cord. Because of the possibility of a hemorrhage, AVMs carry the risk of stroke, paralysis and the loss of speech, memory or vision. AVMs that hemorrhage can be fatal.

Our approach

The Endovascular Neurosurgery Center of Northwell Health Neuroscience Institute combines advanced technical knowledge and leading-edge procedures for diagnosing and treating arteriovenous malformations, ruptured and non-ruptured aneurysms, carotid artery dissection, and related conditions.

Causes and risk factors

The cause of AVMs of the head and neck are unknown. However, most develop during fetal development, and there are certain risk factors that include:

  • Gender – AVMs happen more frequently in males.
  • Family history – There may be a genetic factor in vascular malformations, including AVMs.

Symptoms

Most people with brain AVMs experience few or no symptoms. When symptoms of arteriovenous malformations present themselves, they can include:

  • Headache and weakness
  • Pain
  • Problems with speech, vision, and movement
  • Seizures

Diagnosis and testing

Our team of specialists provides thorough neurological evaluations, including diagnosis of arteriovenous malformations, using the latest diagnostic technology - including CT angiography and 3D angiography.

We work very closely with the departments of neurosurgery, interventional neuroradiology, neurology and radiation oncology, as well as the Neurocritical Care Center and Stroke Center to ensure an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment for the best outcome.

Treatment options

There are several treatment options for AVMs. Your physician will determine the best treatment based on several factors. Potential treatments include:

  • Medical surgery – If you have few or no symptoms or if your AVM is in a location that isn’t easily treated, conservative medical treatment may be recommended. This may include avoiding activities that elevate blood pressure and avoiding blood thinners.
  • Surgery – In some cases, surgical removal is the best option to completely remove the AVM. This prevents the chance of future bleeding.
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery - In relatively small AVMs, a cerebral angiogram is done to pinpoint the AVM. Focused beam high energy is used to damage blood vessels to cause them to scar and clot the AVM.
  • Interventional neuroradiology – A small catheter is placed inside the blood vessel that supplies the AVM to block the flow of blood. Liquid tissue adhesives, micro coils, particles and other materials can be placed through the catheter to stop blood flowing to the AVM.

The multidisciplinary team of experts at Northwell Health Orthopaedic Institute treats AVMs as well as a broad range of spine and brain conditions that can occur at any stage of life.

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The Neuroscience Institute

We are dedicated to the world-class diagnosis and treatment of neurological diseases and disorders.