A cavernoma is a cluster of abnormal blood vessels, usually found in the brain and spinal cord.They’re sometimes known as cavernous angiomas, cavernous hemangiomas, or cerebral cavernous malformation (CCM). The recommended treatment for cavernoma will vary depending on an individual’s circumstances and factors such as size, location and number..

A typical cavernoma looks like a raspberry. It’s filled with blood that flows slowly through vessels that are like “caverns”. A cavernoma can vary in size from a few millimetres to several centimetres across.

Symptoms of cavernoma

A cavernoma often doesn’t cause symptoms, but they can cause symptoms similar to having a stroke, seizures, haemorrhages and headaches in addition to neurological symptoms such as limb weakness, vision or balance problems, or memory and attention problems. The severity and duration of symptoms can vary depending on the type of cavernoma and where it’s located. Problems can occur if the cavernoma bleeds or presses on certain areas of the brain. The cells lining a cavernoma are often thinner than those that line normal blood vessels, which means they’re prone to leaking blood.

In most cases, bleeding is small – usually around half a teaspoonful of blood – and may not cause other symptoms. But severe haemorrhages can be life threatening and may lead to longlasting problems.

You should seek medical help as soon as possible if you experience any of the above symptoms for the first time.

What causes a cavernoma?

In most cases, there’s no clear reason why a person develops a cavernoma. The condition can sometimes run in families – less than 50% of cases are thought to be genetic. However, in most cases cavernomas occur randomly. Genetic testing can be carried out to determine whether a cavernoma is genetic or whether it’s occurred randomly.

How common are cavernomas?

It’s estimated about 1 in every 600 people in the UK has a cavernoma that doesn’t cause symptoms. This equates to roughly 90,000 people – enough to fill Wembley Stadium. Every year, around 1 person in every 400,000 in the UK is diagnosed with a cavernoma that has caused symptoms.If symptoms do occur, most people will develop them by the time they reach their 30s.

Diagnosing cavernoma

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans are mainly used to diagnose cavernomas. As symptoms aren’t always evident, many people are only diagnosed with a cavernoma after having an MRI scan for another reason.

What are the chances of a cavernoma bleeding?

The risk of having a haemorrhage varies from person to person, depending on whether you have experienced any bleeding before.If you haven’t had any bleeding before, it’s estimated you have a less than 1% chance of experiencing a haemorrhage each year.If your cavernoma has bled previously, your risk of having another haemorrhage is somewhere between 4% and 25% each year. However, this risk decreases progressively over time if you don’t experience any further bleeds, and eventually returns to the same level as that of people who haven’t had any bleeding before.

Your level of risk will be one of the main factors taken into consideration when deciding if you would benefit from treatment.

Further information