Can Spinal AVM be cured?

Jun 20, 2024 Blog
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Can Spinal AVM Be Cured?

Arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) of the spine are complex vascular anomalies that can lead to serious neurological deficits. The question “Can spinal AVM be cured?” is a common concern for patients diagnosed with this condition and their families. Understanding the nature of spinal AVMs, the available treatments, and the long-term prognosis is crucial for managing expectations and planning effective care strategies.

Understanding Spinal AVMs

Spinal AVMs are abnormal tangles of blood vessels where arteries and veins connect directly, bypassing the capillary system. This can cause significant problems, including hemorrhage, ischemia, and neurological deficits due to the abnormal blood flow. They can occur anywhere along the spinal cord and can affect patients of any age, although they are often diagnosed in young adults.

Spinal arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) are rare and complex vascular anomalies within the spinal cord and its surrounding structures. These malformations involve an abnormal and direct connection between arteries and veins, bypassing the normal capillary network. This unusual vascular structure can lead to significant neurological issues, primarily due to the altered blood flow dynamics and the potential for hemorrhage or ischemia.

Anatomy and Physiology of Spinal AVMs

Normal Spinal Cord Vasculature

Under normal circumstances, the spinal cord is supplied with blood by a network of arteries, veins, and capillaries. Arterial blood, rich in oxygen, travels through arteries to capillaries where it releases oxygen and nutrients to the tissues before returning to the heart through veins. This capillary network plays a critical role in regulating blood flow and pressure.

Pathophysiology of AVMs

In a spinal AVM, arteries connect directly to veins without the intermediary capillary bed. This direct connection creates a high-pressure, high-flow system that can cause several problems:

  • Increased Venous Pressure: The high-pressure arterial blood directly entering veins can elevate venous pressure, leading to venous congestion.
  • Reduced Oxygen Delivery: The bypass of capillaries means that tissues downstream may receive less oxygen and nutrients.
  • Risk of Hemorrhage: The abnormal vessels are often fragile and prone to rupturing, leading to hemorrhages in or around the spinal cord.

Types of Spinal AVMs

Spinal AVMs can be classified based on their location and the nature of the vascular malformation. The primary types include:

Intramedullary AVMs

These AVMs are located within the spinal cord itself. They are often associated with significant neurological symptoms due to their impact on the spinal cord’s structure and function.

Extradural AVMs

Extradural AVMs are located outside the spinal cord but within the spinal column. They can still cause significant symptoms due to compression of the spinal cord or nerve roots.

Dural AV Fistulas

These are abnormal connections between an artery and a vein within the dura mater, the outermost layer covering the spinal cord. Dural AV fistulas often present with progressive myelopathy due to venous congestion.

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Symptoms and Diagnosis of Spinal AVMs

Symptoms of spinal AVMs can vary widely depending on their size and location but often include pain, muscle weakness, sensory changes, and, in severe cases, paralysis. Diagnosis typically involves imaging studies such as MRI, CT scans, and angiography to visualize the vascular malformation and assess its impact on the spinal cord.

Spinal arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) are intricate vascular anomalies that can lead to a range of neurological symptoms due to their impact on the spinal cord and surrounding structures. The presentation of symptoms can vary significantly depending on the size, location, and type of the AVM, as well as the presence of complications such as hemorrhage or ischemia. Accurate diagnosis is crucial for effective treatment and management.

The symptoms of spinal AVMs are often diverse and can mimic other spinal disorders, making diagnosis challenging. Here are the primary symptoms associated with spinal AVMs:

Motor Deficits

Muscle Weakness: One of the most common symptoms is muscle weakness, which can affect any part of the body depending on the location of the AVM. Patients might experience difficulty walking, frequent tripping, or a general loss of strength in the limbs.

Paralysis: In severe cases, AVMs can cause partial or complete paralysis. This is often due to significant pressure on the spinal cord or a hemorrhage that damages the nervous tissue.

Sensory Changes

Numbness and Tingling: Patients may report numbness, tingling, or a “pins and needles” sensation in various parts of the body. These sensory changes can be intermittent or constant.

Loss of Sensation: There can be a reduction or complete loss of sensation in areas served by the affected parts of the spinal cord.


Back Pain: Persistent and severe back pain is a common symptom, often localized to the area around the AVM.

Radicular Pain: Pain that radiates along the nerve pathways, commonly known as radicular pain, can occur. This pain may extend from the spine to the extremities, such as the arms or legs.

Autonomic Dysfunction

Bladder and Bowel Control: Disruption of normal autonomic functions can lead to issues with bladder and bowel control, including incontinence or difficulty voiding.

Sexual Dysfunction: Patients may experience changes in sexual function due to the involvement of nerves that control these functions.

Sudden-Onset Symptoms

In some cases, symptoms can appear suddenly due to complications such as hemorrhage:

Acute Hemorrhage: A sudden rupture of the AVM can lead to acute and severe neurological deficits, including sudden onset of paralysis, severe pain, and loss of bladder or bowel control. This is a medical emergency requiring immediate attention.

Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs): Temporary episodes of neurological dysfunction can occur due to transient ischemia, where parts of the spinal cord receive insufficient blood flow.

Diagnosis of Spinal AVMs

Diagnosing spinal AVMs involves a combination of clinical evaluation and advanced imaging techniques. Early and accurate diagnosis is essential to prevent permanent neurological damage and to guide appropriate treatment strategies.

Clinical Evaluation

Medical History: A detailed medical history is taken to understand the onset, duration, and progression of symptoms. This includes any family history of vascular malformations or neurological conditions.

Physical Examination: A thorough neurological examination is conducted to assess motor and sensory function, reflexes, and autonomic functions. This helps to localize the lesion within the spinal cord.

Imaging Studies

Imaging studies are crucial for visualizing the AVM and determining its exact location, size, and relationship to surrounding structures.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Standard MRI: MRI is the preferred initial diagnostic tool due to its ability to provide high-resolution images of the spinal cord and surrounding tissues. It can detect the presence of an AVM, associated hemorrhage, and any resultant spinal cord compression.

MRI with Contrast (MRA): Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) involves the use of contrast agents to enhance the visualization of blood vessels, helping to delineate the AVM more clearly.

Computed Tomography (CT) and CT Angiography (CTA)

CT Scan: A CT scan can provide detailed images of the bony structures of the spine and can detect hemorrhage or calcifications within the AVM.

CTA: CT angiography uses contrast dye injected into the bloodstream to highlight the spinal vasculature, offering a clear view of the AVM’s structure and blood flow dynamics.

Conventional Angiography

Digital Subtraction Angiography (DSA): This is the gold standard for diagnosing spinal AVMs. It involves injecting a contrast dye directly into the arteries and taking X-ray images to visualize the blood flow and the AVM’s detailed anatomy. DSA provides the most precise information about the AVM’s feeding arteries, draining veins, and nidus (the core of the AVM).

Additional Diagnostic Tools

Electromyography (EMG) and Nerve Conduction Studies: These tests can assess the electrical activity of muscles and the integrity of peripheral nerves, providing additional information about the extent of neurological involvement.

Spinal Tap (Lumbar Puncture): In some cases, a lumbar puncture may be performed to analyze cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for signs of bleeding or other abnormalities that might suggest the presence of an AVM.

Differential Diagnosis

Spinal AVMs must be differentiated from other conditions that can cause similar symptoms, such as:

Spinal Tumors: Both benign and malignant tumors can compress the spinal cord and cause neurological symptoms.

Degenerative Disc Disease: Herniated discs or spinal stenosis can cause pain and neurological deficits.

Multiple Sclerosis: This demyelinating disease can present with motor and sensory symptoms similar to those of spinal AVMs.

Spinal Infections: Infections such as abscesses or osteomyelitis can mimic the symptoms of spinal AVMs.

Accurate diagnosis of spinal AVMs is essential for effective treatment and management. The diverse symptoms associated with these malformations necessitate a comprehensive diagnostic approach that includes a detailed clinical evaluation and advanced imaging techniques. Understanding the symptoms and employing the right diagnostic tools can lead to timely intervention, potentially preventing severe neurological damage and improving patient outcomes.

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Treatment Options for Spinal AVMs

Treating spinal arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) requires a multidisciplinary approach due to the complexity and potential risks associated with these vascular anomalies. The primary goals of treatment are to alleviate symptoms, prevent neurological deterioration, and reduce the risk of hemorrhage. Here are the main treatment options for spinal AVMs in detail:

Surgical Resection


Surgical resection involves the complete removal of the AVM from the spinal cord. This method aims to eliminate the source of abnormal blood flow and prevent further neurological damage.


Large or symptomatic AVMs causing significant neurological deficits.

AVMs that have bled or are at high risk of bleeding.

Accessible AVMs that can be safely removed without excessive risk to the spinal cord.


The surgery is performed under general anesthesia. The surgeon makes an incision in the back to access the spine and uses microsurgical techniques to carefully dissect and remove the AVM. Intraoperative neurophysiological monitoring is often employed to minimize the risk of damaging critical spinal cord structures.

Risks and Complications

Spinal Cord Injury: There is a risk of damaging the spinal cord during surgery, which can result in permanent neurological deficits.

Bleeding: Intraoperative bleeding can be significant, requiring meticulous hemostasis.

Infection: Postoperative infections are possible but can be managed with antibiotics.


Successful surgical resection can provide long-term relief from symptoms and reduce the risk of rebleeding. However, the success of the procedure largely depends on the AVM’s location and the patient’s overall health.

Endovascular Embolization


Endovascular embolization is a minimally invasive technique that involves threading a catheter through the blood vessels to the site of the AVM and injecting embolic agents to block the abnormal blood flow.


AVMs that are not suitable for surgery due to their location or size.

As a preoperative adjunct to reduce the size and blood flow of the AVM, making subsequent surgical resection safer.

Palliative treatment to alleviate symptoms in patients who cannot undergo surgery.


The procedure is performed under local or general anesthesia. A catheter is inserted into a blood vessel, typically through the groin, and guided to the AVM using fluoroscopic imaging. Embolic agents, such as coils, glue, or particles, are then injected to occlude the abnormal vessels.

Risks and Complications

Embolization Failure: Complete occlusion of the AVM may not always be achieved.

Stroke: There is a risk of embolic material migrating to normal vessels, potentially causing a stroke.

Spinal Cord Ischemia: Accidental occlusion of normal spinal arteries can lead to ischemia and neurological deficits.


Embolization can significantly reduce the size and symptoms of the AVM, but it may not always provide a permanent solution. It is often used in combination with other treatments for optimal results.

Stereotactic Radiosurgery


Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) is a non-invasive treatment that uses focused radiation to target and shrink the AVM over time.


Small, deep-seated AVMs that are difficult to access surgically.

Residual AVM tissue after surgical resection.

Patients who are not candidates for surgery or embolization.


The patient is fitted with a stereotactic frame to ensure precise targeting. High-dose radiation beams are then focused on the AVM, causing damage to the abnormal vessels, which eventually leads to their closure over months to years.

Risks and Complications

Radiation Injury: Nearby normal tissue can be damaged, leading to neurological deficits.

Delayed Effect: It can take several months to years for the AVM to completely occlude, during which there is still a risk of hemorrhage.

Radiation-induced Malignancies: There is a small risk of developing radiation-induced tumors.


SRS can be effective for reducing or eliminating small AVMs, especially those that are inoperable. Long-term follow-up is required to monitor the progress of AVM obliteration.

Conservative Management


In some cases, conservative management may be appropriate, particularly for asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic AVMs. This approach involves regular monitoring and symptomatic treatment.


Asymptomatic AVMs detected incidentally.

Small AVMs with low risk of hemorrhage.

Patients with significant comorbidities making surgical intervention too risky.


Conservative management includes regular follow-up with imaging studies, such as MRI or CT angiography, to monitor the AVM for any changes. Symptomatic treatments, such as pain management, physical therapy, and medication for neurological symptoms, are also employed.

Risks and Complications

Progression of Symptoms: AVMs can enlarge or hemorrhage over time, leading to worsening symptoms.

Delayed Intervention: Waiting too long to treat an AVM that begins to cause symptoms can result in irreversible neurological damage.


With careful monitoring, some patients can maintain a good quality of life without immediate invasive treatment. However, this approach requires a commitment to regular follow-up and prompt intervention if the AVM changes.

Multidisciplinary Approach

Effective treatment of spinal AVMs often involves a team of specialists, including neurosurgeons, interventional radiologists, neurologists, and rehabilitation therapists. This multidisciplinary approach ensures that all aspects of the patient’s condition are addressed, from diagnosis and treatment to rehabilitation and follow-up care.

Preoperative Planning

Detailed imaging studies and consultations among specialists are crucial for planning the most appropriate treatment strategy. Preoperative embolization may be considered to reduce intraoperative blood loss during surgical resection.

Postoperative Care

Postoperative care includes monitoring for complications, managing pain, and initiating rehabilitation to improve functional outcomes. Physical and occupational therapy can help patients regain strength and mobility.

Long-term Follow-up

Regular follow-up with imaging studies is essential to monitor for recurrence or changes in the AVM. Patients may also need ongoing neurological assessments and symptomatic treatments.

The treatment of spinal AVMs requires a nuanced and individualized approach, taking into account the specific characteristics of the AVM and the patient’s overall health. Surgical resection, endovascular embolization, stereotactic radiosurgery, and conservative management each have their roles, and the best outcomes often result from a combination of these modalities. Advances in medical technology and a multidisciplinary approach continue to improve the prognosis for patients with this challenging condition.

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Managing Symptoms and Complications

In addition to direct treatments, managing the symptoms and complications of spinal AVMs is crucial. This can involve physical therapy to address muscle weakness and coordination problems, pain management strategies, and regular monitoring to detect any changes in the condition.

Prognosis and Long-Term Outcomes

The prognosis for patients with spinal AVMs varies depending on factors such as the size and location of the malformation, the patient’s overall health, and the success of the chosen treatment. While some patients may experience significant improvement following treatment, others may continue to have residual symptoms. Long-term follow-up care is essential to monitor for potential recurrences or complications.

Can Spinal AVM Be Cured?

The term “cure” in the context of spinal AVMs is complex. While complete surgical resection can eliminate the AVM, the risks associated with surgery must be carefully weighed against the potential benefits. In many cases, the goal of treatment is to manage symptoms and prevent further neurological deterioration rather than achieving a complete cure.

Advances in Research and Treatment

Ongoing research into spinal AVMs is focused on improving diagnostic techniques, developing less invasive treatment options, and understanding the genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying these vascular anomalies. Advances in imaging technology, endovascular techniques, and radiosurgery are continually enhancing the ability to treat spinal AVMs more effectively and safely.

Patient Experiences and Support

Living with a spinal AVM can be challenging, but support from healthcare providers, family, and patient support groups can make a significant difference. Sharing experiences and knowledge can help patients navigate the complexities of their condition and treatment options.


Can spinal AVMs recur after treatment?
Yes, spinal AVMs can recur, especially if the initial treatment did not completely eliminate the abnormal vessels. Regular follow-up imaging is essential to monitor for recurrence.

What are the risks of surgery for spinal AVMs?
Surgery carries risks, including potential damage to the spinal cord, which can result in neurological deficits. The decision to undergo surgery must be carefully considered in consultation with a neurosurgeon.

Are there non-surgical treatments for spinal AVMs?
Yes, endovascular embolization and stereotactic radiosurgery are non-surgical options that can reduce the size of the AVM and alleviate symptoms.

How do spinal AVMs affect quality of life?
Spinal AVMs can significantly impact quality of life, causing pain, weakness, and neurological deficits. Effective treatment and symptom management are crucial for improving outcomes.

Can lifestyle changes help manage spinal AVMs?
While lifestyle changes cannot cure spinal AVMs, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can support overall well-being and potentially improve recovery outcomes following treatment.

What should patients ask their doctors about spinal AVM treatment?
Patients should ask about the risks and benefits of different treatment options, the potential for recurrence, and the expected impact on their quality of life. Understanding all available options and having a clear plan for follow-up care is essential.

In conclusion, while the question “Can spinal AVM be cured?

May not have a straightforward answer, significant advances in medical and surgical treatments offer hope for managing this complex condition. With the right treatment and support, many patients can achieve meaningful improvements in their symptoms and quality of life.


Well-known Interventional Radiologist Dr. ALOK KUMAR UDIYA is currently a consultant at The CARE CHL, an Indore hospital with NABH accreditation. He has a distinguished medical career and has studied at numerous top federal, state, and international superspecialty medical institutes.

He earned his M.B.B.S. from M G M Medical College in Indore and then M.D. in radiodiagnosis from Lady Hardinge Medical College at Delhi University.

Following that, he completed a fellowship in neuro- and vascular interventional radiology at the Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences (SGPGIMS) in Lucknow, where he gained extensive experience in diagnostic imaging along with hepatobiliary, peripheral vascular, and neurovascular interventions.

The prestigious Institute of the liver and biliary sciences Hospital (ILBS), New Delhi, awarded him a P.D.C.C. (Post Doctoral fellowship) in Hepatobiliary intervention, where he also received further in-depth instruction and advanced training in hepatobiliary and transplant imaging and interventions.

Moreover, he completed a six-month Neuro-Interventional Fellowship (FINR) at the famous University of Zurich, where he received specialized training from Professor Anton Valavanis in the endovascular management of stroke and aneurysm.

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