Pulmonary arteriovenous malformation

Dr Donna D'Souza et al.

Pulmonary arteriovenous malformations (PAVM's) are rare vascular anomalies of the lung, in which abnormally dilated vessels provide a right-to-left shunt between the pulmonary artery and vein. They are generally considered direct high flow, low-resistance fistulous connections between the pulmonary arteries and veins.

There is a recognised female predilection with F:M ratios ranging around 1.5 to 1.8:1. The estimated incidence is thought to be around 2-3 per 100,000 11.

Despite most patients being asymptomatic, the connection between the venous and arterial system can lead to dyspnoea (due to right-to-left shunting), as well as embolic events (due to paradoxical emboli). Although it is assumed that the vascular defects are present at birth, they are seldom manifested clinically until adult life when the vessels have been subjected to pressure over several decades. Clinically a murmur or bruit may be audible over the lesion (especially if peripheral). There are be an extremely variable age of presentation from infant to old age although most patient within the first three decades of life.

In congenital cases they are considered to result from a defect in the terminal capillary loops which causes dilatation and the formation of thin-walled vascular sacs. They can be multiple in around one-third of cases.


They can be classified as simple, complex or diffuse 9.

  • simple type: commonest; has a single segmental artery feeding the malformation; the feeding segmental artery may have multiple subsegmental branches that feed the malformation, but must have only one single segmental level
  • complex type: have multiple segmental feeding arteries (~20% 7)
  • diffuse type: rare (~5% of lesions); the diffuse form of the disease is characterised by hundreds of malformations; some patients can have a combination of simple and complex AVMs within a diffuse lesion

Another older embryological based classification proposed by Anatwabi et al. in 1965 is as 11

  • group I: multiple small arteriovenous fistulas without an aneurysm
  • group II: large arteriovenous aneurysm
  • group III
    • large arteriovenous aneurysm (central)
    • large arteriovenous aneurysm with anomalous venous drainage
    • multiple small arteriovenous fistulae with anomalous venous drainage
  • group IV
    • large venous aneurysm with systemic arterial communication
    • large venous aneurysm without fistula
  • group V: anomalous venous drainage with fistulae

These are often unilateral. Although can potentially affect any part of the lung, there is a recognised predilection towards the lower lobes (50-70%) 7.


PAVMs have been described in association with a number of conditions.

In addition PAVMs have been found in:

A number of modalities are available for the diagnosis of PAVMs, including contrast echocardiography, radionuclide perfusion lung scanning, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and, the gold standard, pulmonary angiography 2.

Plain radiograph

A pulmonary varix (dilated vessel) may be apparent as a non-specific soft tissue mass.  These often have a relatively unusual orientation compared to adjacent vessels. More than one may be identified, such as in patient's with HHT.12

CT / CT angiography

CT is often the diagnostic imaging modality of choice. The characteristic presentation of a PAVM on non-contrast CT is a homogeneous, well-circumscribed, non-calcified nodule up to several centimetres in diameter or the presence of a serpiginous mass connected with blood vessels 3. Occasionally associated phleboliths may be seen as calcifications. Contrast injection demonstrates enhancement of the feeding artery, the aneurysmal part, and the draining vein on early-phase sequences.

MR / MR angiography

Three-dimensional contrast–enhanced MR angiography has is considered the MR technique of choice for imaging vascular structures in the thorax 10. Most lesions within the lung have a relatively long relaxation time and produce medium to high intensity signals. Lesions with rapid blood flow within result in a signal void and produce low intensity signals.

Treatment options include:

  • trans-catheter coil embolisation
  • surgery (historically treated with surgery)

Once successfully treated (embolotherapy, surgical resection), prognosis is generally good for an individual lesion.


The first description of pulmonary arteriovenous malformation was reported by T Churton in 1897.

Possible imaging differential considerations include

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Article information

rID: 1935
Systems: Vascular, Chest
Section: Pathology
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Pulmonary AVM's
  • Pulmonary AVM
  • Pulmonary arteriovenous fistula
  • Pulmonary arteriovenous aneurysm
  • PAVM
  • PAVM's

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Cases and figures

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    Case 1
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    Pulmonary AVM
    Case 2
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    Case 3: as a retro-cardiac opacity
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    Case 3: same lesion on CTA
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    Case 4: on chest radiograph
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    Case 4: on CTPA
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    Case 5: multiple lesions with background HHT
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    Case 6
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    Case 7
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    Case 8
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    Case 9: multiple coiled PAVM's
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    Case 10
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    Case 11: multiple
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    Case 12: multiple
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    Case 14
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