About Cavernous Malformations
Cavernous malformations are collections of abnormal blood vessels that have weak walls prone to stretching and leakage. When blood passes through the “caverns,” it can pool, move very slowly through the distended area, or even leak into surrounding tissue.
Cavernous Malformations are typically clusters of tiny blood vessels with a malformed structure. Described as mulberry-shaped clusters, they are found all over the body, but are usually only concerning when found in the brain, or the spinal column.
A person can be born with cavernous malformations or develop them over time. Malformations can be inherited and family members may want to get gene testing after one member is diagnosed.
Cavernous malformations are also commonly called cavernomas, cavernous angiomas, intracranial vascular malformations and cavernous hemangiomas.
Symptoms of Cavernous Malformations
Symptoms vary from person to person, and are dependent on the location of the malformations as well as how much they may bleed. You may experience no symptoms, while others may have all of them.
- Seizures (epilepsy)
- Weak limbs
- Focus and recall problems
- Issues with balance
- Vision problems
- Central pain syndrome
Strokes and seizures are the most serious of the symptoms and are often what can bring about awareness of the malformations.
Diagnosing Cavernous Malformations
Typically a diagnosis follows the display of symptoms. When you head to your doctor and malformations are suspected, he or she will likely order an MRI to detect the presence of malformations. They won’t necessarily show up on other tests like CT scans unless the cavernous malformations have recently bled.
If you have only one malformation and no one else in your family has been diagnosed, your doctor may diagnose it as a sporadic type of cavernous malformations. If you have multiple malformations or others in your family have been diagnosed, you may be experiencing the familial type of malformations that result from a genetic mutation.
Treatment Options for Cavernous Malformations
When you receive a cavernous malformation diagnosis, the first question is often whether surgery is necessary. If the malformation is not causing issues, your doctor may just continue to watch it through regularly scheduled MRIs. However, if it does cause symptoms and is in an accessible area, surgery may be recommended. Depending on the size and location of the malformation, surgery may carry a low or high risk. Age, level of overall health and health history are all factors in the course of treatment.
The surgery performed to remove cavernous malformations in the brain and brain lining is called a craniotomy, or what most people think of as brain surgery. While there are different types of craniotomies, those to address cavernous malformations usually involve general anesthesia and are highly targeted to reduce risk and recovery time. Part of the skull is removed for the surgery and then secured back in place once the surgery has been performed. Because of better diagnostic tools, improvements in surgery techniques and computer-aided imaging for targeting cavernous malformations, craniotomies are less dangerous and invasive than they were in the past. Following surgery many patients recover normally.
Radiosurgery is sometimes listed as a treatment option, however it has not yet been proven effective for treating cavernous malformations.
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