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AVM: An Abnormal Connection Between Arteries and Veins
Scott Beck

AVM: An Abnormal Connection Between Arteries and Veins

Signs of an AVM

Sometimes an AVM is discovered incidentally through a scan for another reason. Other times, an AVM can bleed causing a variety of symptoms that range in severity, from headaches, weakness and numbness to confusion and inability to speak. In the most severe cases, AVMs in the spine can cause paralysis and those in the brain can cause coma or even death. Even when an AVM doesn’t bleed, symptoms like frequent headaches and seizures might present.

Treating an AVM

While you can live with an AVM, the risk of bleeding exists, and an AVM bleed has a 10 to 15% chance of causing death. Fortunately, three common treatments exist: surgery, radiosurgery and embolization. Surgery can be used to completely remove a small AVM in an easily accessible location. Radiosurgery, or the use of focused beams of radiation, can also cure it with minimal side effects. A minimally invasive procedure, embolization rarely cures an AVM by itself, but it can be used along with surgery and radiosurgery to produce better outcomes.

Preventing an AVM

While there isn’t a way to prevent an AVM, living a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of an AVM bleed. This includes quitting smoking, monitoring your blood pressure and avoiding use of substances that increase blood pressure like cocaine and methamphetamines. The most important thing is to see a neurosurgeon if you have an AVM or are experiencing symptoms that could be caused by an AVM. The Washington University Neurosurgery Center at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital is staffed by a team of experienced neurosurgeons, offering advanced surgical and non-surgical treatments to ensure the best possible patient care.

Ananth Vellimana, MD, is an Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery, Radiology and Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine and has an office on the campus of Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital. For more information, you can call 636.928.WELL.

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