Pulmonary arteriovenous fistulas: Mayo Clinic experience, 1982-1997

Mayo Clin Proc. 1999 Jul;74(7):671-80. doi: 10.4065/74.7.671.


Objective: To describe the results of analysis of clinical, physiologic, diagnostic, and therapeutic aspects and complications in patients with pulmonary arteriovenous fistulas (PAVFs).

Patients and methods: Retrospective review of medical records of all patients with the diagnosis of PAVF evaluated at Mayo Clinic Rochester from 1982 through 1997. Demographic characteristics, presence or absence of hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia, clinical features, and results of imaging studies and blood gas analyses, treatments, and complications related to PAVFs were reviewed.

Results: Among the 93 patients, 44 were male and 49 female. The mean age at the time of evaluation was 40 years (range, 5-83 years). Fifteen patients (16%) were asymptomatic. History of hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia was present in 52 patients (56%). Notable clinical findings included epistaxis in 46 (49%), hemoptysis in 14 (15%), cyanosis in 27 (29%), clubbing in 18 (19%), dyspnea in 53 (57%), and pulmonary bruits/murmurs in 32 (34%). Chest x-ray films with or without tomograms showed abnormal findings in 87 (94%), of which 68 (73%) suggested PAVF. Polycythemia was detected in 12 (13%). Pretherapy arterial PO2 measured on room air averaged 56 mm Hg (range, 32-95 mm Hg), and the posttherapy PO2 averaged 77 mm Hg (range, 46-110 mm Hg). Echocardiography with indocyanine green dye was diagnostic of extracardiac right-to-left shunt in 26 (90%) of 29 patients tested. Diagnostic studies revealed single lesions in 32 patients (34%) and multiple lesions in 61 (66%). The most prominent complications of the disease were neurologic events in 34 patients (37%). These complications included transient ischemic attacks, hemiplegia, brain abscesses, and seizures. Surgical resection alone was carried out in 18 patients (19%), embolization therapy alone in 41 (44%), and both therapies in 7 (8%). The 48 patients treated with embolization required 78 embolization sessions with more than 200 lesions occluded. Complications of treatment included postembolization hemothorax in 1 patient and right-sided hemiparesis in another patient. Follow-up disclosed that 1 patient died from PAVF-related complications.

Conclusions: Among our patients with PAVFs, hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia was observed in more than half and neurologic complications in more than one third. Because of the considerable risk of neurologic and other complications, definitive treatment should be considered in patients with PAVFs. Embolization is currently the preferred treatment in most patients. Frequent follow-up of treated patients is necessary because PAVFs tend to increase both in number and in size over time.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Angiography
  • Arteriovenous Fistula* / blood
  • Arteriovenous Fistula* / complications
  • Arteriovenous Fistula* / diagnosis
  • Arteriovenous Fistula* / etiology
  • Arteriovenous Fistula* / therapy
  • Blood Gas Analysis
  • Brain Abscess / etiology
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / etiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Embolization, Therapeutic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Records
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Pneumonectomy
  • Pulmonary Artery / abnormalities*
  • Pulmonary Veins / abnormalities*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk
  • Seizures / etiology
  • Telangiectasia, Hereditary Hemorrhagic / complications
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Oxygen