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What is an Arteriovenous Malformation?

Arteriovenous malformation (AVM) is an abnormal connection between arteries and veins, usually in the brain or spine.  The arteries are responsible for taking oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the brain and veins carry the oxygen-depleted blood back to the lungs and heart.  A brain AVM disrupts this vital process.  An AVM can occur anywhere in the body, but brain and spinal AVMs present substantial risks when they bleed.  The cause of brain AVMs is not known and many believe that they are present at birth.


A brain AVM may not cause any symptoms until the AVM ruptures, resulting in bleeding in the brain (hemorrhage).  In about half of all brain AVMs, hemorrhage is the first sign.

In people without hemorrhage, signs and symptoms of a brain AVM may include:

  • Seizures
  • Muscle weakness or paralysis
  • Loss of coordination
  • Difficulties carrying out organizational tasks
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Visual disturbances
  • Language problems
  • Abnormal sensations such as numbness, tingling, or spontaneous pain
  • Memory deficits
  • Mental confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Dementia

Because these symptoms may overlap with those of other conditions, it is important to get the correct diagnosis to find the right treatment.  Make an appointment with your primary care physician if you are experiencing persistent signs and symptoms that concern you.

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