Spinal Cavernoma / Cavernous Malformation

About Spinal Cavernoma (Cavernous Malformation)

A spinal cavernoma also known as a cavernous malformation (cav-mal) is a cluster of abnormally formed tiny blood vessels within your spinal cord. A cav-mal may remain stable for years without ever causing symptoms, and are typically found incidentally. These blood vessels can bleed spontaneously, and this bleeding may place pressure on your nerves leading to weakness and/or abnormal sensations in your arms or legs. The risk of bleeding from these lesions is very low. When found incidentally, these lesions often do not require surgery.

It is thought that a certain percentage of cavernous malformations are hereditary. They appear to run in families, although a significant number of patients diagnosed with a cav-mal do not have any family history of the disease.

Common Symptoms of Spinal Cavernoma (Cavernous Malformation)

Some cases of spinal cavernomas cause no symptoms, while in some cases symptoms seem to come and go. Many of the symptoms are not specific for a cav-mal and can be signs of other conditions, making an MRI necessary to properly diagnose the condition. Some symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Neck or back pain
  • Weakness
  • Numbness
  • Loss of balance
  • Paralysis

Diagnosis of Spinal Cavernoma (Cavernous Malformation)

Two image tests are commonly used to diagnose a spinal cavernoma, MRI and CT scan.

  • MRI scan – best tool for diagnosing a cavernous malformation. Magnetic fields generate images that show small “caverns” of blood and tangled capillaries, as well as evidence of previous hemorrhages. An MRI can also show if a patient has multiple cavernous malformations.
  • CT scan –  uses x-rays to show hemorrhages that have occurred at different times. If a contrast agent (dye) is used a CT scan may be able to identify the cavernous malformation.

Treatment of a Spinal Cavernoma (Cavernous Malformation)

For incidental lesions, often a course of observation is indicated. For cases where symptoms are continuous or worsening, surgery may be the best option. Treatment plans are developed based on the patient’s age, overall health, severity of symptoms, and the size and location of the cav-mal.