Symptoms and causes

Symptoms of spinal AVM vary greatly from person to person depending on the severity and location of the AVM. Some people may not develop noticeable symptoms for many years, if at all. Others may experience symptoms that are debilitating or life-threatening.

Symptoms usually develop when people are in their 20s, although almost 20 percent of people diagnosed with spinal AVM are under the age of 16.

The emergence of symptoms may be sudden or gradual. Symptoms typically include:

  • Problems with walking or climbing stairs
  • Numbness, tingling or sudden pain in your legs
  • Weakness on one or both sides of your body

As the condition progresses, additional symptoms may include:

  • Sudden, severe back pain
  • Lack of feeling in the legs
  • Difficulty urinating or moving your bowels
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Sensitivity to light

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience signs and symptoms of spinal arteriovenous malformation.


The specific cause isn't known. Most spinal AVMs are present at birth (congenital), but others may occur later in life.

Risk factors

There are no known risk factors for spinal arteriovenous malformation. The condition occurs equally in men and women.


Untreated, spinal arteriovenous malformation can lead to progressive disability by damaging the spinal cord and surrounding tissues. Specific complications may include:

  • Problems with moving (motor deficits)
  • Pain, tingling and numbness (sensory deficits)
  • Spinal column deformity
  • Bulging blood vessel (aneurysm)
  • High blood pressure in the veins (venous hypertension), which can cause fluid accumulation (edema) and tissue death due to lack of oxygen (spinal cord infarction)
  • Hemorrhage, which can accelerate spinal cord damage