A cerebral cavernous malformation (CCM) is a collection of small blood vessels (capillaries) in the central nervous system that is enlarged and irregular in structure. In CCM, the walls of the capillaries are thinner than normal, less elastic, and are likely to leak. Cavernous malformations can happen anywhere in the body. They most commonly cause symptoms when they are found in the brain and spinal cord.
These clusters of blood vessels (lesions) can be less than 1/4 inch to 4 inches (0.6 cm to 10 cm) in size.
Common symptoms include headaches or seizures. Having symptoms depends on where the lesions grow and how many are present.
Most of the time, these lesions cause no problems. Many people never know that they have one. But in some people, the lesions can burst and bleed into the brain. This can cause problems such as stroke, and rarely, death.
Facts about cavernous malformations
Cavernous malformations probably form before or shortly after birth. Some may seem to appear and disappear over time on follow-up MRI scans.
In some cases, the condition is caused by a gene mutation. These are inherited from a parent. In other cases, they appear without a family history.
Symptoms of cavernous malformations depend on the location and size of the malformation. Although children sometimes have symptoms, most people who have symptoms are between 20 and 50 years old.
These are physical symptoms:
Changes in hearing or vision
Trouble thinking clearly or with remembering things
Stroke (hemorrhage or bleeding type)
When to call the healthcare provider
Many people only find out about a cavernous malformation when it bleeds. This causes stroke in some people. If you notice symptoms, such as seizure, severe headache, numbness, vomiting associated with headache, or physical weakness, go immediately to the emergency room or call 911 to get help.
Healthcare providers will ask about your health history and do a physical exam. The final diagnosis is usually made based on imaging tests that show areas of blood flow. These tests could include:
Gene testing in some clinics
A treatment plan could include:
Medicine for symptoms, such as antiepileptic medicines for seizures
Surgery to remove the blood vessels
Regular MRI scans to keep an eye on a lesion
Currently, cavernous malformations can’t be prevented. Researchers hope that by learning more about the genes linked to these growths, prevention could become possible. Prenatal genetic testing and counseling are choices for the first person in a family with multiple cavernous malformations or for relatives of those with a family history.
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