What is a cavernous angioma?
A cavernous angioma is a condition whereby a collection of small blood vessels in the central nervous system become both irregular and enlarged, taking on a characteristic honeycomb shape. These blood vessel malformations can occur in the spinal cord, the covering of the brain (dura) or the nerves of the skull. Cavernous malformations range in size from less than one-quarter inch to three or four inches.
Cavernous angiomas are also called cavernous malformations, cavernous angiomas, cavernomas, intracranial vascular malformations or cavernous hemangiomas.
People with cavernous angiomas may experience no symptoms at all. When symptoms do occur, they often are related to the location of the malformation and the strength of the malformation’s walls. The type of neurological deficiency is associated with the area of the brain or spinal cord that the cavernous malformation affects. People with cavernous angiomas may experience the following:
- Balance problems
- Memory and attention problems
- Vision problems
- Weakness in arms or legs
Symptoms may appear and subside as the cavernous malformation changes in size due to bleeding and reabsorption of blood. At least 30 percent of people with cavernous angiomas will develop symptoms, most of who are in their 20s or 30s.
Up to 40 percent of solitary cavernous malformations may have an associated venous malformation.
At least 20 percent of those with cavernous angiomas have the familial form of the illness. The familial form is associated with Hispanic heritage, multiplicity of lesions and a demonstrated propensity for growth of lesions. (The latter two symptoms are seen less often with the sporadic form of the illness.) If a parent has familial cavernous angioma, their child has a 50 percent chance of developing this condition.
How common is it?
The incidence of cavernous angiomas is estimated at one in 100 to 200 people. Cavernous angiomas account for an estimated 8 to 15 percent of all intracranial and spinal vascular malformations.