A cavernous malformation is a group of capillaries (small blood vessels) that are abnormally connected to each other. These capillaries have very thin walls which makes them prone to leaking. These can occur anywhere in the body, including the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include seizures, weakness in arms or legs, trouble with vision, balance, memory, or attention, and headaches.
Cavernous malformations are not able to be seen with an angiogram. Currently, the best imaging to detect this abnormality is an MRI with and without contrast. If the patient doesn’t experience any symptoms, periodic MRI’s while ‘watching and waiting’ may be the best treatment option. If the patient is experiencing symptoms, surgery may be suggested. Surgery is recommended on a case-by-case basis, but typically is only done if the malformation is in a low-risk area that is easy to get to. If the malformation is deeper within the brain, benefits of surgery should be weighed against the risks. Some risks to consider involve where the malformation is located and if surrounding brain tissue may be affected. Another consideration is that removing the malformation may worsen symptoms after surgery instead of making them better.