Management of extracranial arteriovenous malformations of the head and neck

Auris Nasus Larynx. 2020 Apr;47(2):181-190. doi: 10.1016/j.anl.2019.11.008. Epub 2019 Dec 18.


The purpose of this study was to review the outcomes of the different therapies for extracranial head and neck arteriovenous malformations (AVMs). AVMs are high-flow congenital vascular anomalies. They are composed of a complex system of vessels directly connecting feeding arteries to draining veins forming a nidus. They may be potentially life-threatening due to progressive symptoms and infiltrative disease. Extracranial AVMs most commonly affect the head and neck area (47.4%) followed by the extremities (28.5%). AVMs are best characterized as being either focal or diffuse. Focal AVMs have good outcomes following adequate treatment. Diffuse lesions have multiple feeding vessel, which results in high rates of recurrence despite treatment. The management of AVMs includes conventional surgery and endovascular techniques. A combination of embolization and surgical resection has become the treatment of choice over the last years. The main goal of both forms of treatment being the complete blockage or resection of the nidus. Transcatheter embolization of vessels has evolved over the years and new embolic agents have emerged. The types of materials available for embolization are classified into mechanical devices, liquid agents and particulates. Efficacy, rate of recurrence and most common complications were evaluated. AVMs recurrence after embolization or resection is reported in up to 80% of cases. Incomplete resection and embolization can induce aggressive growth of the remaining nidus and the risk of progression is up to 50% within the first 5 years and recurrences can occur up to 10 years later. Although ethanol seems to be associated with the highest degree of cure and permanent occlusion, the overall complication rate reported was 48%. Other materials, such as cyanoacrylate, have obtained modest rates of complete remission, while the reported rates of complete regression of AVMs with Fibrin glue and Polyvinyl alcohol are above 50%. At present, there are no unified agreement on the ideal embolic agent. Therefore, a multidisciplinary approach is recommended to support decision making about the best therapeutic approach and to achieve optimal outcome. A long-term post-treatment follow-up is recommended to recognize early recurrence.

Keywords: Arteriovenous malformation; Congenital vascular anomaly; Hemangioma; High-flow vascular malformation; Superselective embolization.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Angiography, Digital Subtraction
  • Arteriovenous Malformations / diagnostic imaging
  • Arteriovenous Malformations / epidemiology
  • Arteriovenous Malformations / therapy*
  • Computed Tomography Angiography
  • Cyanoacrylates / therapeutic use
  • Embolization, Therapeutic*
  • Endovascular Procedures*
  • Ethanol / therapeutic use
  • Fibrin Tissue Adhesive / therapeutic use
  • Head*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiography
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neck*
  • Polyvinyl Alcohol / therapeutic use
  • Recurrence
  • Solvents / therapeutic use
  • Tissue Adhesives / therapeutic use
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler
  • Vascular Surgical Procedures*


  • Cyanoacrylates
  • Fibrin Tissue Adhesive
  • Solvents
  • Tissue Adhesives
  • Ethanol
  • Polyvinyl Alcohol