Vascular Malformations - Diagnosis and Treatment

Neurosurgery at Mercy - Baltimore, MD

The Minimally Invasive Brain and Spine Center at Mercy has extensive experience diagnosing and treating even the most complex brain and spine conditions, such as vascular malformations. 

About the Condition

Vascular malformations are rare blood vessel abnormalities that can occur in the brain and spine, as well as other parts of the body. Vascular malformations involve the three types of blood vessels that help to transport blood throughout the body:

  • Arteries – carry blood away from the heart
  • Veins – carry blood to the heart
  • Capillaries – connect arteries and veins

Types of vascular malformations in the brain and spine include:

  • Arteriovenous malformations – an abnormal, tangled mass of  blood vessels, usually in the brain or spinal cord
  • Spinal arteriovenous malformations  – an abnormal, tangled mass of blood vessels in the spinal cord
  • Cavernous malformations – clusters of abnormally formed capillaries
  • Venous malformations – abnormal and dilated veins in the brain
  • Dural arteriovenous fistulas – an abnormal connection between the arteries in the dura (membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord), and the veins that normally carry blood away from the brain
  • Capillary telangiectasias – abnormally dilated capillaries in the brain

Complications of vascular malformations include:

  • Internal bleeding (hemorrhaging) caused by ruptured or abnormally formed blood vessels
  • Brain tissue damage

Most vascular malformations are present at birth. Symptoms typically begin between the ages of 10 and 40, if at all.

NEXT: Symptoms & Diagnostic Process ›
Symptoms & Diagnostic Process

Vascular malformations often do not present any symptoms. If symptoms occur, they vary based on the location and type of the malformation and may include:

  • Vision problems
  • Headache (if in the brain)
  • Back pain (if in the spinal area)
  • Weakness
  • Seizures
  • Balance issues
  • Hearing issues/tinnitus (pulsing in ears)

Vascular malformations are diagnosed using:

  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • Cerebral angiography imaging to find blood vessel blockages 
NEXT: Treatment Options ›
Treatment Options

Treatment of vascular malformations depends on the severity (if it is causing bleeding), the symptoms that the patient experiences, and the location of the vascular malformation. Other considerations include the patient’s age and overall health.

Treatment options may include:

  • Monitoring the vascular malformation
  • Brain surgery
  • Endovascular embolization procedure that redirects blood past the vascular malformation so that it can flow properly through normal blood vessels
  • Radiosurgery, which uses radiation to reduce blood flow to the vascular malformation
  • Medication for underlying conditions caused by the vascular malformation