Pulmonary arteriovenous malformation

Last revised by Yaïr Glick on 3 May 2023

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

There is a recognized 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 dyspnea (due to right-to-left shunting), as well as embolic events (due to paradoxical emboli). Although it is assumed that 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 is a highly variable age of presentation from infant to old age, although most present 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 vascular 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 characterized by hundreds of malformations; some patients can have a combination of simple and complex AVMs within a diffuse lesion

An older embryological based classification proposed by Anatwabi et al. in 1965 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 they can potentially affect any part of the lung, there is a recognized 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.

A dilated pulmonary vessel may be apparent as a non-specific soft tissue mass, often with a relatively unusual orientation compared to adjacent vessels. More than one raises the possibility of hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia 12.

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 centimeters 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.

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

Treatment options include:

  • trans-catheter coil embolization

  • surgery (historically treated with surgery)

Treatment is indicated in cases with a feeding artery diameter greater than 3 mm 16. Once successfully treated (embolotherapy, surgical resection), the 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 can be divided into vascular and non-vascular lesions 16 and include:

  • vascular

    • abnormal systemic vessels

    • highly vascular parenchymal mass

    • other congenital or acquired pulmonary arterial or venous lesions (e.g. pulmonary varix)

    • pulmonary artery pseudoaneurysm

    • hepatopulmonary vessel

    • retroperitoneal varices

  • nonvascular

    • bronchoceles: on contrast scans

    • mucoceles

    • granulomas

    • atelectasis

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Cases and figures

  • Case 1
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  • Case 2
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  • Case 3: as a retro-cardiac opacity
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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 13
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  • Case 14
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  • Case 15
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  • Case 16
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  • Case 17
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  • Case 18: bilateral
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  • Case 19
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  • Case 20
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  • Case 21: simple pulmonary arteriovenous malformation (PAVM)
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