Key Points about Spinal Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM)

  • Spinal arteriovenous malformation (AVM) causes a tangle of blood vessels on or near the spinal cord.
  • Diagnosis of AVM usually involves an MRI and angiography.
  • Treatment of AVM usually includes a combination of medications, endovascular embolism and/or surgery.

Common related conditions
Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy Disc (Disk) Herniation Myelopathy
Spinal arteriovenous malformation – or AVM – is a rare condition that causes an unusual tangle of blood vessels on or near the spinal cord. If left untreated, AVM can permanently damage the spinal cord.

Spinal arteriovenous malformation causes 

The cause of AVM is unknown. In most cases, the AVM is congenital (present at birth), though the condition can develop later in life.

Spinal arteriovenous malformation risk factors

Experts have not identified any specific risk factors for AVMs. They occur equally in both males and females.

Spinal arteriovenous malformation symptoms

Signs and symptoms of AVM vary from person to person, and may include:

  • Headache
  • Loss of feeling in the legs
  • Neck stiffness
  • Numbness or tingling in the legs
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sudden back pain
  • Sudden pain in the legs
  • Trouble urinating or having a bowel movement
  • Trouble walking or climbing stairs
  • Weakness on one or both sides of the body

Spinal arteriovenous malformation diagnosis

Your specialist may recommend one or more of the following tests to diagnose AVM:

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Your specialist will recommend an MRI, which can help them identify or locate the bundle of blood vessels.

Angiography. Your doctor may order this test to determine the location and severity of the bundle of blood vessels.

Spinal arteriovenous malformation treatment

Your specialist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options for AVM:

Medications. You may need to take medication – such as pain relievers or corticosteroids – to reduce your pain, swelling and inflammation.

Endovascular embolization. This is a minimally invasive surgery that can help reduce your risk of bleeding and other complications related to AVMs.

Surgery. Your specialist may recommend surgery to remove the AVM from the surrounding tissue.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a spine specialist for more specialized treatment.