Spinal cord arteriovenous malformations account for roughly 20 percent of all spinal masses and 3–4 percent of all space-occupying lesions in the spinal cord.1,2 The definitive diagnosis and treatment is to perform an angiogram with embolization (which has replaced digital subtraction angiography).1 Annually, about 300 patients in the United States present with an sAVM requiring hospital treatment, and the average length of related stays decreased from nine to six days between 1995 and 2006.3
Classifying sAVM type is essential to decide the best course of treatment (see Table 1).
The patient presented here was diagnosed with a type II sAVM: intramedullary AVM. These typically cause symptoms in patients in their third decade of life. The presentation can be similar as in this case, with sudden onset or loss of neurological function and pain below the level of the lesion.4 The cause of sAVMs is unknown, but it is postulated they might be genetic.5 Management of sAVMs depends on more than just the type or location but the ability and surgical experience of the neurosurgeon.
Table 1: AVM Types
|Type I||Spinal Dural Arteriovenous Fistula|
|Type II||Intramedullary AVM|
|Type III||Juvenile Malformations|
|Type IV||Intradural or Premedullary AVM|
Intramedullary sAVMs are a rare cause of acute neurological deficit and back pain that may present similarly to cauda equina syndrome. Although this patient did not suffer from cauda equina, all symptomatology that was appreciated by the patient fit the criteria for said pathology, which promoted the emergent imaging. Emergency physicians must identify and recognize this as possible cause of acute back pain. If any of the usual red flags for back pain are present, an MRI is recommended in conjunction with neurology and neurosurgery consultation. The emergency physician should make a quick decision for imaging to identify life- or function-threatening pathology.
Look for the following when evaluating a patient with back pain:
- Decreased sensation of the lower extremities
- Decreased muscle strength
- Perineal paresthesia
- Urinary or bowel incontinence/retention
Dr. Lopez is a second-year resident with the Emergency Medicine Residency Program at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip, New York.
Dr. Schwartz is associate research director with the Emergency Medicine Residency Program at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center.
Dr. Smith is a board-certified emergency medicine physician at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center.
- Ozpinar A, Weiner GM, Ducruet AF. Epidemiology, clinical presentation, diagnostic evaluation, and prognosis of spinal arteriovenous malformations. Handb Clin Neurol. 2017;143:145-152.
- Endo T, Endo H, Sato K, et al. Surgical and endovascular treatment for spinal arteriovenous malformations. Neurol Med Chir (Tokyo). 2016;56(8):457-64.
- Lad SP, Santarelli JG, Patil CG, et al. National trends in spinal arteriovenous malformations. Neurosurg Focus. 2009;26(1):1-5.
- Yogarajah M. Crash Course Neurology. London: Elsevier; 2015:165.
- Kim H, Su H, Weinsheimer S, et al. Brain arteriovenous malformation pathogenesis: a response-to-injury paradigm. Acta Neurochir Suppl. 2011;111:83-92.
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