What Is AVM?

What Are AVMs?

Arteriovenous Malformation & Cancer Treatment in Orange County, CA

At Orange County CyberKnife, we’re proud to provide world-class radiation therapy using some of the most advanced cancer fighting systems on the market today. Our team of doctors, radiation oncologists, and cancer fighting specialists includes leaders in the cancer treatment field, and we strive to take a personalized approach to caring for patients, designing personalized treatment plans and using compassion to make the cancer treatment process easier. While we specialize in the CyberKnife cancer treatment system, we can also treat a variety of other conditions – including arteriovenous malformations (AVMs).

About Arteriovenous Malformations

Arteriovenous malformations occur when different blood vessels tangle together, forming irregular, unhealthy connections between arteries and veins. Arteries and veins from two similar, but very distinct, functions: arteries carry oxygen-rich blood to the cells, while veins carry oxygen-depleted blood back to the lungs. Normally, blood passes from an artery through a system of capillaries – tiny, microscopic vessels where oxygen is transmitted from blood cells to tissue – then out of the capillaries into a vein. In an AVM, the capillary system is compromised, forming direct connections between an artery and a vein. If the AVM is large enough, it can rob surrounding tissue of oxygen, eventually leading to tissue damage, the death of nerve cells, and potentially more serious consequences.

Scientists aren’t sure why AVMs form, but most evidence points to congenital factors. While AVMs can develop anywhere in the body, they’re most common in the brain and the spinal cord. While many AVMs start small and relatively inconsequential, they can expand in size over time, eventually causing serious problems for the patient.

Symptoms of AVMs

Symptoms of an AVM can be extremely diverse, and they’re very dependent on where the AVM forms and how large it gets. While some AVMs produce only minor irritation, in some cases they can be life threatening. For AVMs in the brain, seizures and headaches are two of the most common symptoms.

Seizures from AVMs may affect only a specific part of the brain (focal) or they may affect the entire brain (widespread), potentially causing the person to lose control of their body and experience convulsions. Headaches may be mild or as severe as a migraine, and there’s no clear pattern in frequency, length, or intensity. Other AVM symptoms include:

  • Weak muscles or partial paralysis
  • Lack of coordination (ataxia) that may interfere with how a person walks
  • Difficulty with planning and executive function
  • In the case of a spinal AVM, back pain or pain in the lower parts of the body is common
  • Dizziness
  • Partial loss of vision, inability to control the eye, or a swollen optic nerve
  • Inability to understand language or difficulty speaking (aphasia)
  • Spontaneous and inexplicable pain, numbness, or other sensations
  • Problems with memory
  • Hallucinations, dementia, or general confusion
  • In some cases, an AVM can cause learning disabilities or behavioral disorders in childhood before other symptoms develop

Neurological AVMs

Neurological AVMs refer to AVMs that form in the brain or the spinal cord. These AVMs are particularly problematic, as they’re the most likely to impair motor function, cause seizures and headaches, and create other debilitating side effects. Neurological AVMs may prevent the brain from getting enough oxygen, cause bleeding in the brain or spinal cord, or compress or displace parts of the brain or spinal cord. Neurological AVMs may form anywhere in the brain or spinal cord where arteries and veins of present, causing a number of different problems depending on their location. AVMs may form in the tissues of the brain or in the surrounding membranes.

AVMs in the Spinal Cord

When formed in the spinal cord, AVMs may have a number of symptoms ranging from severe, sudden back pain similar to that from a slipped disk. Other symptoms can include problems with the senses, weak muscles, or even paralysis in certain areas of the body. This is because an AVMs in the spinal cord can cause the nerve fibers below it to degrade and eventually to die, which can impede communication with parts of the body those nerve fibers control or leave those areas paralyzed entirely.

AVMs in the Brain

AVMs may form at various locations in the brain, and their symptoms will differ based on where the form. AVMs formed in the outermost parts of the brain can push on the brain, potentially causing headaches and other problems. If an AVM forms in the brain, it may have a host of symptoms depending on its location. AVMs in the brain can impair motor function, language, sensory input, vision, or thinking. If an AVM forms deep in the cerebrum, it may cause even more severe problems in movement, learning, or memory. If an AVM forms in the hindbrain, which is responsible for basic vital functions, balance, and many movements, it may cause a variety of problems. Potential symptoms include giddiness, dizziness, vomiting, loss of coordination, or muscle tremors.

Are AVMs Fatal?

The most severe problem an AVM can cause is a hemorrhage, where the AVM begins to bleed into surrounding tissue. Often, such episodes of bleeding go undetected because they’re not severe enough to seriously damage the brain, but if the hemorrhage is large enough, it may be fatal. There are a number of factors that affect the risk of hemorrhage from an AVM:

  • Smaller AVMs are more likely to bleed than larger ones
  • Hemorrhage is more common in AVMs occurring in deep or narrow veins with less drainage
  • Pregnancy increases the likelihood of serious hemorrhage
  • If an AVM hemorrhages once, it’s 9 times more likely to bleed again within one year compared to an AVM that has never bled

Contact Your Orange County, CA Cancer Treatment Center

While some AVMs are mild enough to be virtually undetectable, others may cause severe, debilitating, or life-threatening consequences – but at Orange County CyberKnife, we’re here to help. We’re proud to treat patients for wide variety of conditions at our Orange County cancer treatment center, and if you or someone you know has recently been diagnosed with an AVM or a cancerous condition, we are committed to providing world-class treatment. If you’d like to find out more about how we can help you overcome whatever you’re facing, please call us today at 714.962.7100 with any questions or reach out to us at our contact page to schedule an appointment. Fighting cancer or an AVM can be a scary, difficult process – but the team at Orange County CyberKnife is committed to helping you reclaim total health.