A cavernous malformation is a cluster of small blood vessels (capillaries) with an enlarged and irregular structure. The walls of these capillaries are thinner than normal, less elastic, and prone to leaking.
These abnormalities can occur anywhere in the body, but they are most likely to produce symptoms when they form in the brain or spinal cord. Cavernous malformations can bleed into the brain (hemorrhage), which may result in neurological symptoms.
How common are cavernous malformations?
About one person in every 100 to 200 people has a cavernous malformation, but about 25 percent of people affected never have symptoms.
Who gets cavernous malformations?
Cavernous malformations can affect children and adults. Most people who have symptoms are between 20 and 50 years old.
Most cavernous malformations occur sporadically, but some cases are hereditary.
How are cavernous malformations diagnosed?
Your doctor may be able to diagnose a cavernous malformation with an MRI alone, but other possible tests include:
- CT scan
- Blood tests
- Gene testing
When a cavernous malformation leaks, bleeding can be slow and intermittent or rapid, causing sudden symptom onset. Most people who develop neurological deficits after a cavernous malformation hemorrhages improve dramatically over time. However, repeated hemorrhages may result in permanent deficits.
Symptoms of a cavernous malformation may include:
- Bleeding in the brain (hemorrhage)
- Hearing or vision changes
- Weakness, numbness, or paralysis
- Memory deficits
- Speech impairment
If you are diagnosed with a cavernous malformation but are not experiencing symptoms, your doctor may recommend observing it over time with regular MRI scans.
Medications, such as anti-epileptic drugs, may be prescribed to control your seizures or other symptoms.
If your symptoms are not responding to medication or there is recurring bleeding in the brain, removal of the lesion using microsurgical techniques may be recommended.
- Date of last review: December 7, 2016