Spinal Arteriovenous Malformation

What is a Spinal Arteriovenous Malformation?

Arteriovenous malformations are abnormal blood vessel structures that form on the spinal cord. This rare condition causes blood to flow from the arteries to the veins without traveling through the capillaries.

The resulting interruption in blood flow leaves part of the spinal cord without a supply of oxygen. Important cells die, leading to spinal cord bleeding and compression. Most people don’t know they have the condition until an injury, surgery, or an unknown cause triggers the bleeding to begin.

What are the Symptoms of Spinal Arteriovenous Malformations?

Most blood vessel abnormalities form as the fetus develops in the womb. When the condition finally overwhelms the lack of capillaries and triggers bleeding, you’ll notice symptoms like:

  • Slow developing weakness in any part of the body or spread across multiple limbs and regions
  • Back pain and numbness that increases over the months and years
  • Sudden and unexpected trouble with walking, urinating, or movement
  • Outward signs of internal hemorrhage like extensive and dark bruising around the spine

How is a Spinal Arteriovenous Malformation Treated?

It’s necessary to use contrast imaging to explore the spinal vascular system to determine if any capillaries or other parts are missing. When a diagnosis of spinal arteriovenous malformations is confirmed, patients may not need any treatment beyond monitoring.

Active bleeding causes permanent damage to the spinal cord. Internal embolization can fix malformed blood vessels without major surgery, but open bleeding lesions must be removed surgically to keep the spinal cord cells from dying or breaking down. It’s important to watch for signs of disturbance in your nervous system after being diagnosed with spinal arteriovenous malformations so you can get the bleeding under control before permanent damage occurs.

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Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
August 21, 2017