Another Day, Another Headache: Could Your Head Pain Be Caused By An Arteriovenous Malformation?

Posted on: 15 September 2015


While an occasional headache is usually nothing to worry about, persistent headaches that occur on a regular basis can be a symptom of a more serious disorder such as an arteriovenous malformation.

Arteriovenous malformations, also known as AVM's, form when blood vessels in the brain that become tangled. When blood vessels connecting veins and arteries become entangled, the normal flow of blood is disrupted to parts of the brain.

If left untreated, and AVM can rupture and cause bleeding in the brain or may lead to a stroke.

What causes an AVM?

The cause of arteriovenous malformations are unclear. However, it is believed that most AVM's are congenital and develop prior to birth. AVM's may not cause symptoms until much later in life. If a family member has an AVM, you may be more likely to also have one.

Symptoms of an AVM

In some instances, people experience no symptoms of an AVM and are surprised when an AVM is an incidental finding when an MRI is performed for another medical reason.

Headaches can be a warning sign of an AVM, especially if the headaches occur on one side of the head or in one particular spot on the head. Seizures, muscle weakness, vision loss, unsteadiness, and numbness may also be signs of an AVM.  

Diagnosing an AVM

If you are suffering from recurring headaches, your physician may order an MRI to look for an AVM or other abnormalities. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) creates highly detailed pictures of your brain using magnets and radio waves. An MRI can show even the most subtle changes in brain tissue and is a useful diagnostic tool when looking for blood vessel malformations.

An MRI is also useful for finding the exact location of the MVA. It can also pinpoint any areas of bleeding caused by the MVA.

AVM treatments

You physician will determine the best course of treatment for your specific case based on your age, health, and the severity of your symptoms.

While the typical treatment is surgery to correct or remove the AVM, and to prevent future risk of hemorrhage, medications are useful for treating headache pain or seizures in those who are not good surgical candidates.

Stereotactic radiosurgery is a non-invasive treatment option that uses radiation to destroy the AVM. This is sometimes useful for AVM's that are located deep within brain tissue or that are too risky to be treated with traditional surgery.

Being diagnosed with an AVM can be frightening. However, getting the proper treatment before further complications arise is crucial. Headaches can be a warning sign that something is amiss, and when it comes to arteriovenous malformations, a headache may even save your life. For more information, contact a specialist like those at Omega Diagnostic Imaging PC