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Vascular Malformations of the Spinal Cord

What is a Spinal Vascular Malformation?

Vascular malformations of the spinal cord are abnormally formed blood vessels in the spinal cord. Without treatment, vascular malformations may permanently damage the spinal cord by compressing it, depriving it of oxygen-rich blood, or by rupturing and causing bleeding into the spinal cord.

The two most common vascular malformations of the spinal cord are abnormal tangles of blood vessels called arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) and abnormal vein-artery connections in the covering of the spinal cord called spinal dural arteriovenous fistulas (DAVFs). Other types of vascular malformations include spinal hemangiomas, cavernous angiomas, and aneurysms.

Vascular Malformations of the Spinal Cord Symptoms

A vascular malformation can occur at any location along the spinal cord, causing different problems. Symptoms may appear either suddenly or gradually.

Early symptoms may include:

  • Numbness, tingling, or sudden pain in legs
  • Problems with walking or climbing stairs
  • Weakness on one or both sides of the body

As the condition progresses, symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Numbness in the legs
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Neck stiffness
  • Sudden severe back pain

Vascular Malformations of the Spinal Cord Treatments

Your physician will first seek conservative treatment. If the function of your spinal cord is threatened, you may need further treatment.

Procedures to correct vascular malformations of the spinal cord include:

  1. Endovascular embolization
  2. Open surgery
  3. Stereotactic radiosurgery

Our doctors at the Barrow Spine Program offer all of these treatments and can help you decide which may be right for you.They also collaborate with our experts in the Aneurysm and Cerebrovascular Program to make sure you get the expert care you need.

Additional Information

How common are vascular malformations of the spinal cord?

Vascular malformations are extremely rare. One of the most common vascular formations is spinal AVM. Approximately five to 10 cases of spinal AVM per one million people are diagnosed each year.

Who gets spinal vascular malformations?

Vascular malformations of the spinal cord affect different people of different ages.

Of the two most common types of vascular formations of the spinal cord, spinal AVMs most often cause symptoms between the ages of 10 and 40, and are more common in men. Small children who are afflicted with spinal AVMs may show no symptoms. However, symptoms often develop as these children grow.

Spinal fistulas are also more common in men. Although spinal fistulas can appear in people of any age, they most commonly appear in people over the age of 50 years.

How are spinal vascular malformations diagnosed?

Your physician will perform a physical exam, and will also seek as much information as possible about your symptoms, current and previous medical problems, current medications, and family history.

Your physician may also use diagnostic tests to determine the location, size, and type of vascular malformation you have. Typical diagnostic tests include:

  • Spinal angiography
  • Computerized tomography (CT)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Group 12
  Cases
Approximately five to 10 cases of spinal AVM per one million people are diagnosed each year.
Medically Reviewed by Michael T. Lawton, MD on April 24, 2018