The treatment of arterio-venous malformations is often multidisciplinary and includes microsurgery, endovascular treatment, and radiosurgery.
Microsurgical treatment consists in isolating the nidus by closing the feeders that provide it with blood (just like closing the taps). The progressive reduction of the blood flow will determine a slow “weakening” of the AVM. Once the nidus has been circumscribed, the venous discharges can be closed and the lesion can be removed in one piece. It should be stressed that inside the AVM there is no active brain tissue, but only a tangle of pathological vessels that can be removed.
Surgical treatment of AVMs should always be managed by neurosurgeons with a specific experience in this field, supported by a well-integrated team of anaesthesiologists and neurophysiologists in the operating room.
Surgery is performed by using the fundamental tools for a good outcome of the operation, such as an operating microscope with intraoperative fluorangiography, a neuronavigator, and intraoperative neurophysiological monitoring.
Endovascular treatment employs a microcatheter introduced in the femoral artery in order to reach the afferences of the malformation with the help of X-ray imaging. Once these have been reached, polymers are injected into the microcatheter in order to progressively reduce the blood flow inside the nidus.
Very often endovascular treatment is used with the aim of limiting the blood supply to the AVM in view of a surgical procedure (to make it easier and more safe), which will guarantee the total exclusion of the malformation.
In small AVMs, complete exclusion can be obtained only by means of the endovascular approach, without recurring to surgery.
Radiosurgical treatment consists in directing X-rays or gamma-rays on the AVM by means of collimators, with the aim of establishing a process of sclerosis in the walls of the vessels, which in time will cause the arterial afferences and the nidus to close.
Usually radiosurgical treatment is reserved for smaller AVMs (above 3 cm it is not very effective and there is a risk of relapse), located very deeply in the brain or in eloquent areas that have never bled, since this treatment can take up to 2 years to be effective. During this time span, the risk of bleeding is not excluded and remains unchanged.
To conclude, as in the case of cerebral aneurysms, there is no standard treatment for arterio-venous malformations, but they need to be assessed case by case in order to offer the best solution based on the location and the morphological characteristics of the AVM.