A cavernous malformation is also called cavernous angiomas, cavernomas or cavernous hemangiomas. It is abnormally formed blood vessels called capillaries and usually develops a mulberry-like appearance.
Although it can occur in many parts of the body, a cavernous malformation often causes problems in the spinal cord and the brain, which is also known as cerebral cavernous malformations. Given the fact that the abnormal capillaries have very thin walls, it is very likely for these blood vessels to leak blood and thus causes bleeding in the spinal cord or the brain.
Cavernous malformation can range in size from less than 2 millimeters to several centimeters in diameter. For people with the condition, they may have a series of neurological symptoms according to the location and size of the cavernous malformation. In common situations, the patients may experience seizures, stroke symptoms, hemorrhages, headaches and so on.
About 0.5% to 1% of people develop a cavernous malformation. The condition can affect both genders and it can happen to people of all races and ages. Moreover, the disease also may be hereditary. At least 20 percent of the patients with cavernous malformation have the familial form of the illness. However, it occurs on its own under most conditions. Overall, cavernous malformation accounts for 8%-15% of all intracranial and spinal vascular malformations.
Signs and symptoms of cavernous malformation vary from person to person. On the whole, at least 30 percent of the patients with cavernous malformation will develop symptoms, and about 15 percent of the patients with cavernous malformation may have no symptoms at all.
Basically, if a cavernous malformation does not cause any symptoms and doesn’t grow in a rapid way, regular monitoring every couple of years will be enough. MRI scans and CT scans may be recommended by the doctor.
However, if the cavernous malformation grows quickly and there appears bleeding, then the patients should go to the hospital more often and seek professional medical advice.
For people with cavernous malformation, the following symptoms may occur:
- Weakness in arms or legs
- Vision problems
- Balance problems
- Speaking problems
- Difficulties in understanding others
- Memory and attention problems
- Bleeding in the brain
The conditions may worsen over time so frequent scans are necessary if you have the above-described symptoms.
Most cavernous malformations develop on its own, which means they have no apparent causes. But some patients may have the cavernous malformation because of family history. In this situation, patients can get a diagnosis with a genetic test. As of today, researches have identified three genetic variants that can lead to a cavernous malformation.
Moreover, for patients who receive focal brain radiation therapy, they also may have a cavernous malformation.
Usually, cavernous malformation is diagnosed after it causes symptoms.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans remain to be the best method to diagnose the condition. But the doctor may use computed tomography (CT) scans to investigate if there are any neurological symptoms for the patients too.
According to different situations, cavernous malformation can be treated very differently.
If the patient with cavernous malformation has seizures, medication may be prescribed by the doctor to help to manage the situation. Normally, if the medication can control the symptom, surgery may no longer be needed.
But if the patient with cavernous malformation has shown neurological problems, a surgical option may be recommended by the doctor. The primary goal of the surgery is to cure the seizures and prevent further bleeding.
Based on the location, size, symptoms, signs and growth rate of the cavernous malformation and the patient’s age, the doctor will balance the risk of surgery and then make a decision. For example, for malformation that is located in an accessible part of the brain, surgery can be done. The situation often varies from individual to individual.
Another approach called stereotactic radiosurgery also may be performed. This is a kind of surgical approach that can be used to remove cavernous malformation that is located in parts of the brain that are not accessible by the surgery.
In a stereotactic radiosurgery, the doctor uses focused radiation to treat the patient. In the process, no incision will be made in the patient’s body because it uses only doses of radiation. Similarly, the patient does not need to have general anesthesia as well. After the stereotactic radiosurgery, the patient can head home directly and return to normal daily life the next day.
Keywords: cavernous malformation; cavernous angiomas; cavernomas; cavernous hemangiomas.