Vascular malformations start developing before birth and occur when blood and/or lymph vessels are not formed properly.
- Types include arteriovenous malformation, capillary telangiectasia, cavernous malformation, dural arteriovenous fistula, spinal arteriovenous malformation and venous malformation.
- Symptoms depend on the type of vascular malformation, location and severity. When they occur in the brain, they can cause headaches, seizures, pain and hemorrhages.
- Treatment options also depend on the type and location of the vascular malformation, but options available in NJ include surgery, embolization and Gamma Knife radiosurgery.
What is Vascular Malformation?
“Vascular malformation” is a broad term. The body’s vascular system includes both blood and lymphatic vessels, which allow blood and other substances to flow in a very specific pattern. Sometimes these vessels develop incorrectly before birth, leading to a vascular malformation. Whether you have been told you have a vascular malformation or are still awaiting a diagnosis, understanding more about the types of vascular malformations, symptoms and treatment options can be helpful.
Types of Vascular Malformations
There are many different types of vascular malformations. They can occur throughout the body and be made up of arteries, veins, lymph vessels or a mix. Some common vascular malformations that occur in the brain and/or spinal cord include:
- Arteriovenous malformation (AVM) – A tangle of blood vessels, where arteries connect directly to veins. As a result, vessels that make the AVM are at higher risk of rupture, which can be particularly dangerous within the brain.
- Capillary telangiectasia (CTS) – Clusters of tiny blood vessels called capillaries are dilated (larger than usual).
- Cavernous malformation – Abnormal collection of blood vessels that fill up with blood. These can be as large as 3-4 inches in size.
- Dural arteriovenous fistula – Similar to an AVM, an artery within the membrane covering the brain and spinal cord (dura mater) connects directly to a vein within the brain.
- Venous malformation – Veins which did not form properly. These can stretch out and lose functionality over time. Sometimes, they are referred to developmental venous anomaly or venous angioma.
Vascular Malformation Symptoms
Not all patients will experience vascular malformation symptoms. However, if you do, it will depend on factors such as the type of vascular malformation and/or its location. Vascular malformations within the brain have similar symptoms. Some symptoms of vascular malformations within the brain include:
- Difficulties with brain functions, including memory, speech, and cognition
- Affected senses, such as vision and hearing
- Weakness or paralysis of muscles
Vascular Malformation Treatment Options
If your vascular malformation is asymptomatic and not causing any issues, your doctor may not recommend treatment. However, should your doctor feel treatment is necessary, there are different treatment options available in the tri-state area. He or she will make recommendations based on the type of vascular malformation, its size and location, as well as your personal health factors.
During an embolization procedure, a synthetic material is injected into the blood vessels to prevent the flow of blood through your vascular malformation. This is often a minimally invasive procedure, requiring only a small incision at a site such as the inner thigh. A catheter is directed to the malformation site, the material is injected, and the incision is closed after the catheter is removed. The benefit of this procedure is it stops blood flowing through the malformation, helping prevent rupture of the vessels.
Sometimes surgery is the most effective method to address a vascular malformation. For vascular malformations within the brain, it is sometimes necessary for the surgeon to perform a craniotomy to access the area. The surgeon will remove a small section of the skull to remove or repair the malformation. The bone is replaced and the incision site is closed with sutures or staples. A hospital stay of up to a week is typically required, followed by four to eight weeks of recovery at home.
Gamma Knife Radiosurgery
Gamma Knife radiosurgery is not surgery at all, but an advanced form of radiation therapy available in northern NJ. The procedure is minimally invasive and does not require a hospital stay or lengthy recovery. In fact, most patients are back to normal activity levels within a day or two. Using nearly 200 individual beams of low-dose radiation, your surgeon can treat your vascular malformation in a way similar to surgery but without a single incision. This makes Gamma Knife radiosurgery an excellent treatment option for patients with vascular malformations in inoperable areas, who cannot undergo surgery for health reasons or who simply prefer a minimally invasive treatment option.
Understanding Your Individual Condition
It will be important to work with your personal doctor to understand your exact vascular malformation. He or she will be able to help you relate the information here to your individual condition and answer any remaining questions you may have. However, one question you won’t have to ask at your next visit is, “What is a vascular malformation?” Taking the time to educate yourself about your condition is a great way to have confidence in your diagnosis and treatment, helping you rest easy as you move along your treatment path, whatever it might include.