Clinical and radiographic characteristics of sacral arteriovenous fistulas: a multicenter experience

J Neurosurg Spine. 2021 Oct 8;1-11. doi: 10.3171/2021.5.SPINE21119. Online ahead of print.


Objective: Available data on management of sacral arteriovenous fistulas (sAVFs) are limited to individual case reports and small series. Management includes observation, endovascular embolization, or surgical ligation, with no clear guidelines on the optimal treatment modality. The authors' objective was to report their multiinstitutional experience with management of sAVF patients, including clinical and radiographic characteristics and postprocedural outcomes.

Methods: The electronic medical records of patients with a diagnosis of spinal arteriovenous fistula treated from January 2004 to December 2019 at the authors' institutions were reviewed, and data were summarized using descriptive statistics, including percentage and count for categorical data, median as a measure of central tendency for continuous variables, and interquartile range (IQR) as a measure of dispersion.

Results: A total of 26 patients with sAVFs were included. The median (IQR) age was 65 (57-73) years, and 73% (n = 19) of patients were male. Lower-extremity weakness was the most common presenting symptom (n = 24 [92%]), and half the patients (n = 13 [50%]) reported bowel and bladder sphincter dysfunction. The median (IQR) time from symptom onset to treatment was 12 (5.25-26.25) months. Radiographically, all patients had T2 hyperintensity at the level of the conus medullaris (CM) (n = 26 [100%]). Intradural flow voids were identified in 85% (n = 22) of patients. The majority of the lesions had a single identifiable arterial feeder (n = 19 [73%]). The fistula was located most commonly at the S1 level (n = 13 [50%]). The site where the draining vein connects to the pial venous plexus was seen predominantly at the lumbar level (n = 16 [62%]). In total, 29 procedures were performed: 10 open surgeries and 19 endovascular embolization procedures. Complete occlusion was achieved in 90% (n = 9) of patients after open surgery and 79% (n = 15) after endovascular embolization. Motor improvement was seen in 68% of patients (n = 15), and bladder and bowel function improved in 9 patients (41%). At last follow-up, 73% (n = 16) of patients had either resolution or improvement of the pretreatment intramedullary T2 signal hyperintensity.

Conclusions: T2 hyperintensity of the CM and a dilated filum terminale vein are consistent radiographic signs of sAVF, and delayed presentation is common. Complete occlusion was achieved in almost all patients after surgery, and endovascular embolization was effective in 70% of the patients. Further studies are needed to determine the best treatment modality based on case-specific characteristics.

Keywords: angiography; arteriovenous fistula; magnetic resonance imaging; outcomes; sacral; spinal; vascular disorders.