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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
What is an arteriovenous malformation (AVM)?
An AVM is an abnormal connection between arteries and veins. The connection becomes tangled. Blood flows too quickly from the arteries and pushes on the walls of the veins. The walls weaken and become narrow. The artery walls also become weak. They begin to bulge from blood that is not able to go into the narrow veins. An AVM that has not burst usually causes no symptoms, or may cause headaches or seizures. A burst AVM may cause blood to leak into surrounding tissue, and may lead to a stroke. The leaked blood can also cause your brain to swell.
What are the warning signs of a stroke?
The word F.A.S.T. can help you remember and recognize warning signs of a stroke.
- F = Face: One side of the face droops.
- A = Arms: One arm starts to drop when both arms are raised.
- S = Speech: Speech is slurred or sounds different than usual.
- T = Time: A person who is having a stroke needs to be seen immediately. A stroke is a medical emergency that needs immediate treatment. Some medicines and treatments work best if given within a few hours of a stroke.
How is an AVM diagnosed?
An AVM that has not burst may be found only when your healthcare providers are doing tests for other conditions. Your provider will ask about your medical conditions and examine you. You may also need any of the following tests. You may be given contrast liquid to help arteries and veins show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.
- An angiogram is used to check for problems with blood flow in your brain. X-rays are taken as contrast liquid goes into blood vessels in your brain.
- CT or MRI pictures may be used to check blood vessels and tissues in your brain. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
- Blood tests may be used to check your overall health. Your blood's ability to clot will also be tested. The tests may include a check for diabetes. Diabetes increases your risk for a stroke.
How is an AVM treated?
- Surgery may be needed to repair or remove the AVM. If the AVM has already bled, surgery may be needed to repair burst blood vessels, or remove blood from your brain. Your healthcare provider will use the size, location, and depth of the AVM to decide if surgery is right for you. Surgery can also be used to treat the abnormal blood vessels to prevent them from rupturing or bleeding.
- Endovascular embolization is sometimes done before surgery or radiation to make the AVM smaller and easier to treat. A catheter (tube) is put into a large blood vessel in your groin, and guided up to the AVM in your brain. Dye and an x-ray machine may be used to locate the AVM. Healthcare providers use the catheter to put chemicals, metal coils, or plastic beads in the AVM to stop the blood flow to it.
What can I do to prevent a stroke?
- Manage health conditions. A condition such as diabetes can increase your risk for a stroke. Control your blood sugar level if you have hyperglycemia or diabetes. Take your prescribed medicines and check your blood sugar level as directed.
- Check your blood pressure as directed. High blood pressure can increase your risk for a stroke. Follow your healthcare provider's directions for controlling your blood pressure.
- Do not use nicotine products or illegal drugs. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause blood vessel damage. Nicotine and illegal drugs both increase your risk for a stroke. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke or use drugs and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
- Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol increases your risk for a stroke. Alcohol may also raise your blood pressure or thin your blood. Blood thinning can cause a hemorrhagic stroke.
- Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Choose foods that are low in fat, cholesterol, salt, and sugar. Eat foods that are high in potassium, such as potatoes and bananas.
- Exercise as directed. Exercise can lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and blood sugar levels. Healthcare providers will help you create exercise goals. They can also help you make a plan to reach your goals. For example, you can break exercise into 10 minute periods, 3 times in a day. Find an exercise that you enjoy. This will make it easier for you to reach your exercise goals.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Ask your healthcare provider how much you should weigh. Ask him or her to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight.
- Manage stress. Stress can raise your blood pressure. Find new ways to relax, such as deep breathing or listening to music.
Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) or have someone else call if:
- You have any of the following signs of a stroke:
- Numbness or drooping on one side of your face
- Weakness in an arm or leg
- Confusion or difficulty speaking
- Dizziness, a severe headache, or vision loss
- You have a seizure.
- You have the worst headache of your life.
When should I call my doctor?
- You have more than 1 migraine headache.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
Care AgreementYou have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
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