Spinal Vascular Malformation

Overview

Vascular malformations are abnormal blood vessels. When they form in or near the spinal cord, they’re called spinal malformations. There are 3 common types: spinal arteriovenous malformations (AVMs), arteriovenous fistulas (AVFs) and cavernous malformations. Spinal vascular malformations are rare, but they can be serious. If left untreated, they can permanently damage your spinal cord, causing paralysis in severe cases.

Symptoms

Symptoms of spinal vascular malformations vary. Spinal arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) interfere with normal blood flow. This can cause your arteries and veins to rupture and spill blood inside your spinal cord. AVMs can also push on your spinal cord and cause pain. Arteriovenous fistulas (AVFs) can clog your veins, lowering the flow of oxygen-rich blood to other parts of your body, and cause swelling in your spinal cord. Cavernous malformations are enlarged groups of vessels that leak blood into your spine.

Some people don’t experience any problems. Other people have symptoms that appear suddenly and become worse over time. Early symptoms of these malformations may include:

  • Balance or coordination problems
  • Difficulty walking or climbing stairs
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Odd sensations, such as a feeling of burning or heat
  • Numbness, tingling or sudden pain in your legs
  • Weakness on one or both sides of your body
As the condition progresses, you may also experience:
 
  • Erectile dysfunction (in men)
  • Lack of sensation in your legs
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Lower back pain
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Seizures
  • Stiff neck

Diagnosis

To diagnose a spinal vascular malformation, you may need an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or a CT (computed tomography) scan. Sometimes these are done along with a spinal angiogram, when a dye is injected into your blood vessels so your blood flow appears on the test image.

Treatment Options

The most common treatments for spinal vascular malformations are:

  • Endovascular embolization: Your doctor will thread a tiny tube into your blood vessels to seal off the malformation.
  • Radiation therapy: This will shrink the malformation.
  • Surgery: This may be necessary if your malformation has already bled or is affecting your spinal cord.

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