Spinal Arteriovenous Malformation: Symptoms


Spinal Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) is a rare, abnormal tangle of blood vessels in the spinal cord. In spinal AVM, the capillaries which connect arteries and veins are missing. Instead, the arteries and veins are directly connected to each other. Usually, these abnormalities develop in the fetus, or in a newborn baby. Without treatment, spinal AVM can permanently damage the spinal cord.


Spinal AVM accounts for about 4% of primary intraspinal masses, so the actual number of cases is very low. On the whole, 80% of the condition presents in adults between the ages of 20 and 60.

The specific cause of spinal AVM is by far unknown. It occurs equally among different races and ethnicities, and in both sexes. Most spinal AVM develop in adults but some do present at birth, or develop later in childhood. Also, there are no known risk factors for spinal AVM.


Spinal AVM can cause problems with circulation because they interfere with the body’s blood flow. Spinal AVM can even lead to a serious situation if they rupture, causing bleeding into surrounding areas. It can also cause symptoms by compressing parts of the spinal cord.

However, symptoms of spinal AVM vary widely from person to person, depending on its severity and location. In some cases, people may not have noticeable symptoms for many years. In other cases, people may experience symptoms that are debilitating or life-threatening. Such symptoms typically include:

  • Problems with balance and coordination
  • Numbness, tingling or sudden pain in legs
  • Weakness on one or both sides of your body

As the condition aggravates, additional symptoms will appear, which include:

  • Sudden, severe back pain
  • Lack of feeling or paralysis in the legs
  • Difficulty urinating or moving bowels
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Sensitivity to light


Spinal AVM is difficult to diagnose, because the signs and symptoms are similar to those of other spinal conditions, such as spinal dural arteriovenous fistula, spinal stenosis, multiple sclerosis or a spinal cord tumor. Doctors may recommend the following tests to help rule out the causes of your symptoms, which include:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which uses powerful magnets and radio waves to produce detailed images of the spinal cord. A spinal MRI can identify conditions associated with spinal AVM.
  • Spinal angiography (a test in which a tracer is injected to make the blood flow visible on an X-ray), which is usually used to examine the structure of the malformation and determine the location and characteristics of the blood vessels involved in the spinal AVM.


Treatment for spinal AVM depends on its location and the symptoms. In order to make a treatment plan, the doctor will consider a patient’s clinical history, the physical examination results, and the spinal angiography results. The goal of spinal AVM treatment is to reduce the risk of hemorrhage and prevent the progression of disability and other serious symptoms.

In general, spinal AVM is treated with a procedure called endovascular embolization. It is less invasive than surgery in which a radiologist uses a catheter to inject a glue-like material to close off certain vessels.

Besides, radiation therapy, also called stereotactic radiosurgery, is also a nonsurgical option that can damage and seal off the abnormal vessels of the spinal AVM.

In some serious cases, there is a need for surgery. By using a surgical microscope and extremely fine instruments, neurosurgeons will microsurgically remove the malformation to restore the normal blood flow.

Before making any decision, it is advisable to ask a professional doctor for exact treatment options and procedures.

Keywords: Spinal Arteriovenous Malformation; spinal AVM.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.