What are Arteriovenous Malformations

Advanced Radiation Therapy for Cancer Treatment in Phoenix, AZ

At Palo Verde Cancer Specialists, we believe everyone deserves a healthy, happy life – no matter what condition they’re facing. As a premier cancer treatment provider in the great Phoenix area, we strive to treat cancer of all kinds with comprehensive, convenient cancer treatment services, and we place a strong focus on compassionate and personalized care. While we specialize in treating cancer, we also provide treatment for a number of other conditions – and if you or a loved one are suffering from arteriovenous malformations (AVMs), we’re standing by to help.

What are AVMs?

Simply put, arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) are irregular connections between arteries and veins. While they can form anywhere in the body, they’re most common in the brain and spinal cord – and unfortunately, those locations are also where AVMs are the most severe. It’s not known for certain what causes AVMs to form, but evidence indicates that genetic factors influence the likelihood of developing an AVM.

AVMs disrupt the venous system, which the body uses to deliver oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. Normally, oxygenated blood travels through arteries to the tissues of the body, where the oxygen is distributed through a series of microscopic blood vessels called capillaries. After passing through the capillaries, the blood travels through veins back to the lungs, where it’s reoxygenated and the cycle repeats.

In an AVM, a connection forms directly between a vein and an artery, bypassing the network of capillaries. This prevents oxygen from getting to the tissues, which can damage nerve cells and other cells in the area. While AVMs often start small and have minimal effects, they tend to increase in size over time, eventually causing serious problems.

Symptoms of AVMs

Symptoms from AVMs vary dramatically, and they depend on both the size and location of the AVM. When they occur outside the brain or spinal cord, AVM symptoms may be so mild as to be undetectable. However, for AVMs occurring within the brain or spinal cord, patients may experience headaches, seizures, or a variety of other symptoms, sometimes becoming life-threatening. AVM symptoms may include:

  • Weakness or paralysis of one part of the body
  • Generalized loss of coordination (ataxia) that may cause difficulty walking
  • Problems with planning and thinking
  • Weakness in the lower extremities or back pain
  • Dizziness
  • Partial loss of vision, inability to control the movement of the eyes, or a swollen optic nerve
  • Difficulty understanding language or speaking (aphasia)
  • Unexplained numbness, tingling, pain, or other sensations
  • Problems with memory
  • Dementia, confusion, or hallucinations
  • Subtle disorders in behavior or learning when AVMs develop in childhood or adolescence

Neurological AVMs

Neurological AVMs are those that form in the brain or spinal cord, and they may form anywhere in these areas that blood vessels exist. When they do form, they can damage these organs by depriving certain areas of oxygen, hemorrhaging (bleeding out) into nearby tissues, or putting pressure on areas of the brain or spinal cord. The symptoms patients experience from neurological AVMs depend heavily on the location and size of the AVM.

When AVMs form in the spinal cord, they may cause severe, sudden attacks of back pain, very similar to what someone might experience from a slipped disk. AVMs in the spinal cord can also cause strange sensations, weakness, or even paralysis in specific parts of the body, depending on where the AVM forms along the spinal cord. If the AVM deprives the spinal cord of blood, it may cause nerve cells in the spinal cord to die, paralysing the parts of the body controlled by those cells.

AVMs in the brain vary widely in symptoms depending on where in the brain they form. When they form in the cerebral hemispheres on the outside of the brain, they may disrupt thought, speech, language, touch, taste, hearing, sight, or voluntary motion. When they form deeper in the cerebrum, they may compromise memory, learning, and coordination.

AMVs that form in the hindbrain or brainstem, which lie under the cerebrum, they may disrupt even more vital functions. These AVMs can impair fine motor movements, balance, and may even cause problems in the function of the heart and lungs. Deep AVMs like these can cause vomiting, dizziness, giddiness, tremors, or an inability to perform coordinated movements like walking.

How Dangerous are AVMs?

In most cases, the most dangerous element of an AVM is the possibility of hemorrhage. While most AVM hemorrhages aren’t severe enough to be immediately detectable, serious bleeding episodes can sometimes prove fatal. There are a number of factors that influence the danger of an AVM hemorrhaging:

  • Larger AVMs are generally less likely to bleed than small ones, and deeply-situated AVMs or those in an area with little drainage are more likely to bleed
  • Because it causes fluctuations in blood pressure and volume, pregnancy increases the likelihood of a hemorrhage
  • An AVM that has hemorrhaged in the past year is 9 times as likely to bleed as one that never has
  • Location affects the severity of hemorrhages, with deep AVMs more likely to cause serious neurological damage than AVMs in the outermost regions of the brain or cranial cavity

Contact Your Phoenix, AZ Cancer Treatment Center

No matter who you are or what stage of life you’re in, getting diagnosed with an AVM or a cancerous condition is scary – but the treatment team at Palo Verde Cancer Specialists is here to help. We’re proud to operate six world-class cancer care facilities throughout the greater Phoenix, Scottsdale, Glendale, & Payson areas, and we proudly treat cancerous conditions of all kinds. If you or a loved one have recently been diagnosed with cancer, an AVM, or just have more questions about our services, we encourage you to contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation or second opinion. No matter what you’re facing, we look forward to helping you beat your condition and achieve holistic, overall health.

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