Vascular Abnormalities

This information is useful for children and adults
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About 20 percent of the body’s blood volume is pumped through the network of vessels in the brain. Any kink in this system—a malformed, entangled, or ruptured vessel—can lead to serious disabilities and life-threatening conditions.

Yale Medicine's neurosurgeons have extensive experience identifying and treating vascular abnormalities.

“Vascular abnormalities are often associated with a lot of fear—and rightfully so, because they can potentially be a serious problem,” says Yale Medicine's Charles Matouk, MD, assistant professor of neurosurgery and radiology & biomedical imaging at Yale School of Medicine. “But the vast majority of aneurysms can be detected when they are very small and don't pose a substantial risk to the patient.”

Several types of blood vessel abnormalities can threaten a patient’s health. These include the following:

  • Aneurysms occur when a weak blood vessel begins to swell or blow up like a balloon. In the most dangerous cases, an aneurysm can burst, causing blood to spill on the surface of the brain. A ruptured brain aneurysm is the most common and the most deadly vascular brain abnormality, with a 50 percent fatality rate.
  • AVM or arteriovenous malformation. This is a dangerous but rare condition occurring in less than 1 percent of the population in which a tangle of blood vessels either irritates another part of the brain, causing a stroke, or ruptures and causes bleeding within the brain.
    Unlike a cavernous malformation (see below), an AVM holds blood flowing at high pressure. It’s less deadly than an aneurysm, but a patient with the condition can continue to re-bleed over time and develop serious neurological problems. AVM is believed to be congenital condition.
  • Cavernous Malformation is similar to AVM, but instead of being described as a tangle, it’s more like a small ball of blood vessels that carries low blood-pressure blood. As with an AVM or aneurysm, a cavernous malformation can rupture.
    While it’s usually the least lethal of the three abnormalities, it can lead to seizures, brain bleeds, and serious neurological deficits.