What is an arteriovenous malformation?

VCU Baird arteriovenous malformation

Arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) are defects in the vascular system, most easily described as an abnormal tangle of blood vessels connecting arteries and veins.

The vascular system includes arteries, veins, and capillaries. Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood away from the heart to other organs; veins carry oxygen-depleted blood back to the heart. Capillaries connect the arteries and veins. With an AVM, the tangle of arteries and veins disrupts normal blood flow and oxygen circulation.

According to the Mayo Clinic, when an AVM disrupts this critical process, the surrounding tissues may not get enough oxygen, and the affected arteries and veins can weaken and rupture. If the AVM is in the brain and ruptures, it can cause bleeding in the brain (hemorrhage), stroke or brain damage. While AVMs in other areas of the body are generally not a serious health concern, they can often be inconvenient, painful and unsightly.

AVMs can happen anywhere, but they are more common in the brain or spinal cord. Most people with brain or spinal cord AVMs have few, if any, major symptoms. Sometimes they can cause seizures or headaches.

It’s not clear what causes of AVMs. However, researchers believe most people are born with them, but they can occasionally form later in life. While it’s a rare condition to be passed down among families, there are several rare genetic diseases that are associated with AVMs.

AVMs treated at Baird Vascular Institute at VCU Health include those of located on the extremities as well as various locations on the body including the pelvic region. The Interventional Radiologists and Vascular Surgeons at BVI are well equipped to treat these AVMs. Our capabilities also allow us to handle the primary treatment of AVMs that once may have required prolonged hospitalizations. Today, our image-guided expertise makes outpatient care of these conditions possible. Depending on the location and severity of the AVM, we can generally treat these on an outpatient basis by injecting a sclerosing agent – similar to how we might treat some varicose veins. This has the effect of essentially collapsing the vein(s) and having it stick together which prevents blood flow into that area. The body then naturally reroutes blood flow through other vessels to compensate and to keep surrounding tissue healthy.

If you are concerned and think that you may have an AVM, or you have recently been diagnosed with an AVM and would like to speak with us about your options, give us a call at 804-828-2600.