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What is a spinal arteriovenous malformation?

Spinal arteriovenous malformations (AVM) are a rare abnormality in the structure of blood vessels, causing them to tangle around, on or in the spinal cord. Normally, blood flows from arteries to capillaries then veins, however in AVM, blood flows directly from arteries to veins, bypassing the capillaries where it should be providing oxygen-rich blood to the spinal cord. Left untreated, serious permanent damage can occur due to the disruption of blood flow, causing spinal cord cells to deteriorate or die. The added pressure on arteries and veins makes them more vulnerable to rupture, which can cause hemorrhaging (bleeding), and may cause the spinal cord to become enlarged and compressed.

Symptoms

Many people with spinal AVM experience little or no symptoms, while, depending on the location and severity, others may have difficulty walking or climbing stairs, numbness, tingling or sudden pain in the legs, or pain isolated to one side of the body. As AVM advances, additional symptoms may be felt such as a loss of sensation in the legs, lower back pain, a stiff neck, headache, sensitivity to light, or trouble urinating or with bowel movements.

Causes

A congenital condition (present since birth), spinal AVM may also be symptomatic of an acute illness or disease with gradual onset.

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