Brain vascular malformations affect the blood vessels that carry blood to the brain and can cause bleeding in the brain or pressure on the brain. Spinal vascular malformations disrupt blood flow to the spine and if left untreated, can permanently damage the spinal cord. These conditions are rare in children, but do require medical treatment.

Vascular malformations in children vary in size, location, and severity. Many patients do not feel any symptoms and the vascular malformation may go unnoticed. In other cases, vascular malformations can press on the brain and cause headaches, seizures, numbness, and other neurological symptoms. They can also affect organ systems, cause cerebrospinal fluid buildup, or disturb a child’s vision development. In extreme cases, vascular malformations can be life threatening.

In children, the most common vascular malformations are cavernomas (venous angioma), arterial venous malformations (AVM), moya moya, aneurysms, dural arterial venous fistula, and vein of galen malformation. There are some genetic and inherited causes of vascular malformations, and sometimes part of a child’s care team will include a geneticist.

If your pediatrician suspects that your child has a vascular malformation in the brain or spine, medical imaging such as a CT scan or MRI will confirm the diagnosis, and an arteriogram may be needed to understand the blood vessel anatomy. Once your child is diagnosed with a spine or brain vascular malformation, your pediatrician may refer you to a pediatric neurosurgeon for further evaluation and treatment.

Vascular Malformation Treatment

UNC Pediatric Neurosurgery offers a variety of treatments for vascular conditions, including embolization, revascularization, surgery, and radiation. We work closely with an interdisciplinary team to diagnose the vascular malformation and then develop a treatment plan that is right for each individual patient.


We offer weekly pediatric neurosurgery clinics in Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Pinehurst, and Wilmington. Visit our pediatric neurosurgery clinic locations page for the clinic or hospital nearest you or call 919-445-2410 to schedule an appointment.