Cavernous malformations are abnormally formed blood vessels that have the appearance of a small mulberry in the brain or spinal cord. These malformations may be hereditary or they may occur on their own. They may leak blood, leading to hemorrhage, which can consequently cause neurological symptoms, depending on the location of the cavernous malformation in the nervous system. The symptoms may include weakness or numbness in the face, arm or leg, unsteadiness, vision loss or double vision, and difficulties speaking or swallowing. Seizures also can occur. Repeat hemorrhages may occur soon after the initial hemorrhage or late.
A person with a cavernous malformation may experience no symptoms. When symptoms occur, they are often related to the location of the malformation and the strength of the malformation walls. Symptoms may appear and subside as the cavernous malformation changes in size due to bleeding and reabsorption of blood. The type of neurological deficit is associated with the area of the brain or spinal cord that the cavernous malformation affects. Any of the following symptoms may occur:
- Weakness in arms or legs;
- Vision problems;
- Balance problems;
- Memory and attention problems;
- Headaches ;
- Progressive or transient neurologic deficits;
Some individuals are born with a tendency to develop cavernous malformations. They are not a cancer, which means they cannot spread to other parts of the body. Occasionally, people can have multiple cavernomas.
Patients may present with double vision, unsteadiness, sensory disturbances, and weakness or paralysis on one side of the body. These complaints are closely related to where the lesion is located. Other complications include seizures or bleeding.
Cavernous malformations occur in people of all races and sexes. The male-female ratio is about equal. Family history may be positive especially in patients of Hispanic descent. Recent work has linked the predisposition to cavernous malformation to the seventh human chromosome.