Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) Embolization

What is an AVM?

An AVM is a tangled collection of blood vessels in which there is an abnormal communication between the artery and vein. AVM’s are a congenital malformation (people are born with them) that may not present symptoms until later in life. AVM’s can occur anywhere in the body and have been found in the arms, hands, legs, feet, lungs, heart, liver, and kidneys. However, 50% of these malformations are located in the brain, brainstem, and spinal cord. Some AVM’s, such as pulmonary AVM’s associated with hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia, are a genetic disorder. An arteriovenous malformation (AVM) may hemorrhage, or bleed, leading to serious complications that can be life-threatening.

What is an AVM embolization?

An AVM embolization is an interventional radiology procedure in which the blood vessels supplying the lesion are occluded (blocked off) using various types of embolic materials. These materials include small coils, polyvinyl alcohol particles, or n-butyl cyanoacrylate, which is a type of adhesive.

How is the embolization procedure performed?

Prior to your procedure you will be asked to undergo the following tests or procedures to evaluate your condition and determine the location and anatomy of the AVM:

An angiogram is an x-ray procedure that studies the blood vessels in the body. Contrast media (a liquid dye that may be seen on x-rays) is injected into a vein or artery, and x-ray pictures are then taken in rapid succession. The series of pictures reveals the size and shape of veins or arteries and vessel abnormalities.

Prior to the embolization procedure, the nurse will give you some medication through the intravenous line that is placed in your arm to help you feel relaxed and sleepy. The Interventional Radiologist will also inject a local anesthetic in your groin area where the catheter will be inserted. He/she will then make a small puncture in your groin to access the femoral artery in your leg. A thin tube called a catheter is then introduced through the artery and advanced to the affected artery under x-ray guidance.

Once the catheter is properly positioned in the AVM, the Interventional Radiologist will select the appropriate embolic material to occlude, or block off, the vessels supplying the AVM. The embolic materials used may vary. The most common materials include polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) particles, n-Butyl cyanoacrylate, alcohol, and coils. PVA looks like finely ground, white grains of sand. These particles become wedged in the blood vessels when injected through the catheters. n-Butyl Cyanoacrylate, or n-BCA, is a kind of "glue" that is injected through the catheter at the location of the abnormal vessels. Upon contact with blood, the material solidifies so that the flow of blood to the malformed vessels is blocked. The coils are stainless steel coils coated with fibers to facilitate blood clotting.

Once the AVM is satisfactorily embolized, the catheter is removed and the Interventional Radiologist will apply pressure at the groin site for about 20 minutes to prevent bleeding.

After the procedure you will be monitored over night in a recovery room or in the intensive care unit. If there are no untoward events, you will be discharged approximately 24 hours after the procedure. Or, if the embolization was performed as a pre-surgical procedure, you may undergo surgery for removal of the AVM.