Depending on the size and location of the AVM, Gamma Knife® treatment is often the best choice to preserve brain function and minimize side effects.
What is an arteriovenous malformation (AVM)?
Arteriovenous malformations are tangles of blood vessels that cause irregular connections between the arteries and veins — most often in the spinal cord or brain. It is believed that AVMs are congenital, meaning they are formed before birth, but in rare cases may be caused by injury to the brain.
As they grow, AVMs damage the brain by reducing oxygen flow to vital areas, bleeding into surrounding tissues, and compressing or displacing parts of the brain.
What are the symptoms of AVM?
Though it appears that AVMs are present at birth, many patients show no symptoms until they grow large enough to cause discomfort or damage. The majority of diagnoses are made between the ages of 20 and 40, as neurological damage builds over time. If your AVM is discovered while small and before you exhibit symptoms, your doctors may choose to watch and wait, and monitor the AVM’s growth. Occasionally, pregnancy will speed the onset of symptoms due to increased blood volume and pressure. Symptoms can include bleeding in the brain, seizures, weakness, severe headaches and issues with speech, vision or movement.
Gamma Knife® treatment for AVM
Generally, treatment for AVMs includes a combination of three different tactics:
- Surgical removal of the AVM
- Embolization, or blocking, of the vessels attached to the AVM
- Reducing the size of the AVM to reduce blood flow of the AVM
The Gamma Knife treatment plan depends on the particular size and location of the AVM. Essentially, the Gamma Knife procedure destroys the cells of the AVM, eventually stopping the flow of blood and preventing future hemorrhaging.
How long is the recovery period for Gamma Knife treatment for AVM?
You may experience mild headache, nausea or fatigue immediately after the procedure – but these side effects should fade in one to two days. Because the procedure is noninvasive, there are no risks for bleeding, infection or the leakage of spinal fluid – which are risk factors for open surgery.