Cavernous malformations (CMs) are angiographically occult, low-flow vascular malformations of the central nervous system. They are acquired lesions, with approximately 80% of patients having the sporadic form and 20% the familial form of the disease. The lesions may also develop years after radiotherapy. At the microscopic level, they consist of endothelium-lined cavities (or "caverns") containing blood of different ages. The endothelium proliferates abnormally, and tight junctions are absent or dysfunctional, resulting in leakiness of the endothelium and clinical manifestations in some patients. Cavernous malformations can be an incidental finding or can present with focal neurologic deficits, seizures, or headache, with or without associated hemorrhage. Management of the CM lesion requires knowledge of the natural history of the disease compared with the risk of surgical intervention. Surgery is often considered for symptomatic patients with lesions in a noneloquent location. Medical management is warranted for symptoms related to the CM. Research aimed at understanding the genes and signaling pathways related to CMs have provided potential drug targets, and clinical trials are underway to determine whether medications reduce the risk of future bleeding without surgery or modify the disease course. In addition, recent epidemiologic data have aided practitioners in determining how to treat comorbid conditions in patients with a potentially hemorrhagic lesion. This review provides an overview of the epidemiology, presentation, and clinical management of CMs.
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