Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) Specialist

Joseph Watson, MD -  - Board Certified Neurosurgeon

Cerebrum MD

Joseph Watson, MD

Board Certified Neurosurgeon located in Tyson's Corner, Vienna, VA

An arteriovenous malformation (AVM) is a circulatory abnormality that can cause tissue death or brain hemorrhage without expert treatment. Leading neurosurgeon Joseph Watson, MD, at Cerebrum MD in Northern Virginia and Greater DC area, is a highly skilled surgeon who has extensive experience in carrying out arterial embolization, surgery, and focused radiation treatments to cure AVMs. Call Cerebrum MD today to schedule a consultation.

Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) Q & A

What is an arteriovenous malformation?

An arteriovenous malformation (AVM) is a tangle of blood vessels that creates abnormal connections between your arteries and your veins. AVMs can develop anywhere but typically occur in the spinal cord and brain.

In a healthy circulatory system, your arteries transport freshly oxygenated blood from your heart to all your organs and tissues. 

Your veins then return the blood to your heart and lungs after delivery of the oxygen. Capillaries are tiny blood vessels that connect the larger veins and arteries to your tissues.

AVMs grow instead of the network of capillaries. That means blood goes straight from your arteries into your veins, effectively starving the tissues of oxygen in the affected area. The result is nerve and cell damage and potentially tissue death.

What are the symptoms of arteriovenous malformations?

Many people who have AVMs experience few, if any, symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they can vary a great deal in severity. Headaches and seizures are the most widespread symptoms caused by AVMs. However, there’s no one specific type of headache or seizure that AVMs cause.

AVMs can cause muscle weakness in one part of your body, or possibly paralysis. You might also suffer:

  • Ataxia (loss of coordination)
  • Gait problems
  • Back pain
  • Dizziness
  • Partial loss of vision
  • Swollen optic nerve
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Spontaneous pain
  • Memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Dementia

You could find your ability to speak or understand language diminishes (aphasia). You might also have trouble carrying out activities that need a degree of planning (apraxia). Children and adolescents might develop learning or behavioral problems.

Because AVMs carry blood at far higher pressures than normal vessels, they’re prone to leaking and rupturing. Although it’s likely you were born with your AVM, leaks tend not to occur until later in life.

How are arteriovenous malformations treated?

In most cases, the best treatment for AVMs is arterial embolization, followed by surgery. This procedure involves using special glue or liquid adhesive to block off the AVM. Dr. Watson uses a small catheter (tube) that he inserts into an artery in your groin.

The catheter goes along the artery up to the site of the AVM and delivers the adhesive into the abnormal vessels. The resulting blockage prevents blood from flowing through the AVM, so there’s no longer any risk of a leak or rupture.

If your AVM is deep-seated, focused radiation treatment might be advisable. Dr. Watson uses the state-of-the-art CyberKnife® radiation delivery system.

In addition to treating AVMs in the brain, Dr. Watson has specialized expertise in spinal cord AVMs, having studied the subject while at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Spinal AVMs don’t usually require embolization, as Dr. Watson can resolve 90% of cases surgically.

If you have any concerns about arteriovenous malformations or other neurological disorders, call Cerebrum MD today.