Arteriovenous Malformation

Today, there are many safe and highly effective therapies available to treat arteriovenous malformations (AVM). These include surgery, radiation therapy, embolization and radiosurgery using a device called a Gamma Knife.

Conventional Surgery — In many cases, surgery may be recommended to completely remove the AVM. This is appropriate when the AVM is small and located on the surface of the brain or spinal cord. When the AVM is deep in the brain, other minimally invasive techniques are used to prevent damage to surrounding tissue.

Embolization — Embolization is a technique used to reduce blood flow to the AVM by obstructing surrounding blood vessels. During this procedure, the AVM is filled with specially designed coils, glues or spheres that plug its vessels and decrease the flow of blood. Embolization usually doesn't permanently resolve the AVM but makes it more manageable for future procedures such as surgery.

Radiosurgery — The Gamma Knife, an advanced radiosurgery treatment, is often recommended for people with complex, deep-seated or brain-stem AVMs. Despite its name, the Gamma Knife isn't a knife at all. It delivers a single, very finely focused, high dose of radiation precisely to its target, while causing little or no damage to surrounding tissue. The high dose of radiation damages and eventually closes the walls of the blood vessel. Radiosurgery can be used alone or in combination with other treatments, such as conventional surgery.

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

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