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  Dural Arteriovenous Fistula (DAVF):

PLEASE NOTE: This educational Website, launched in 2005 by brain and spine surgeon Dr Vini G. Khurana PhD FRACS will be shutting down by December 31, 2015, as its contents are migrated to and enhanced at

The pages on and its sister Website receive approximately 5 million hits per year. If you are interested in purchasing the URL or the URL, please email: and advise us of your interest before December 31, 2015. Thank you for visiting I trust that you found it of some benefit in your search, and believe that you will find enhancements at helpful in the near future. Regards, VGK May 17, 2015


Contents of this page, which is DAVF Page 1:

  1. What is a dural arteriovenous fistula (DAVF)? Click here
  2. How common is a dural arteriovenous fistula? Click here
  3. Why does a dural arteriovenous fistula develop? Click here
  4. What are the symptoms of a DAVF? Click here
  5. What are the complications of a dural arteriovenous fistula? Click here

Contents of DAVF Page 2:

  1. How is a dural arteriovenous fistula (DAVF) detected? Click here
  2. How is a dural arteriovenous fistula (DAVF) treated? Click here
  3. Images of a brain dural arteriovenous fistula (DAVF). Click here
  4. Images of a spinal dural arteriovenous fistula (DAVF). Click here
  5. Paper by Khurana & colleagues on a singer with a spinal DAVF (PDF, 150Kb). Click here


1. What is a dural arteriovenous fistula (DAVF)?

A dural arteriovenous fistula (DAVF) is a site of abnormal connectivity between arteries and veins, where the abnormal connection or fistula lies exclusively in the leathery covering of the brain or spinal cord known as the dura. Sometimes there may be one or more fistula in the same patient, the plural of fistula being fistulae.

DAVF can occur in the brain or in the spinal cord: the former is referred to as a cranial DAVF; the latter is referred to as a spinal DAVF.

  • A Cranial DAVF is supplied by branches of the carotid artery (external and internal carotid arteries) and possibly also by branches of the vertebral artery before these arteries penetrate the dura. The fistula usually resides in the convexity dura overlying the brain hemisphere or in the tentorial dura between the forebrain and hindbrain. Rarely, it lies in a deep region of the brain known as the cavernous sinus. There is usually a prominent "draining vein" that can be large and curving or tortuous leaving the fistula site. There may be dilatations in this vein known as varices (single is varix) that can look like "venous aneurysms". Frequently the blood flow in a DAVF is very high, and it may cause blood to flow in the opposite direction to normal over the brain's surface, an event comprising abnormal cortical venous drainage -- this is a worrisome finding on a cerebral angiogram (see below).
  • A Spinal DAVF is supplied by dural arterial branches arising from the aorta's segmental (spinal) arteries. The fistula itself is in the spinal nerve root dural sleeve. Typically, a spinal DAVF occurs somewhere in the lower half of the spine. The vein draining the fistula is usually a long, tortuous or "serpentine" arterialized vein (redder than normal because of the high-flow fistula blood shooting along it). This vein frequently drains upwards along the spinal cord into what is referred to as the coronal venous plexus.

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Dural Arteriovenous Fistula:

Figure 1 shows a cranial DAVF as seen on a side-on or lateral view of a cerebral angiogram. The small fistulae are in the dura (red circles). The arterial supply is marked by the red arrows (branches of the external and internal carotid arteries). In this case, there is no distinct draining vein, but there is a thrombosed dural venous sinus in the vicinity of the fistulae. The blocked or thrombosed portion of the sinus is shown by dark-blue arrow heads, the normal open portion is shown by light-blue arrow heads.

2. How common is a dural arteriovenous fistula (DAVF)?

They are very rare. Interestingly, cranial DAVF are more commonly diagnosed in women over the age of 40 years while spinal DAVF are more commonly diagnosed in men over the age of 40 years.


3. Why does a dural arteriovenous fistula (DAVF) develop?

Unlike AVMs, which are thought to be present from birth, cranial DAVF most often develop later in life following blockage or thrombosis of a cranial dural venous sinus. Cranial dural venous sinuses are relatively large-caliber blood-containing structures that exist in-between the leaflets of the brain's dural covering. These sinuses usually move large volumes of venous blood from the brain, back towards the base of the brain where they form the internal jugular vein on each side of the head/neck junction. When a venous sinus blocks off for whatever reason, the brain can try to compensate by moving venous blood across other parallel or collateral pathways. In this process, however, a fistula may form, representing an abnormal collateral pathway to drain blood away from the brain. Why would a venous sinus block off or thrombose? Reasons include chronic central nervous system infection, brain trauma, or a patient with some form of hypercoagulability state (tendency to experience thrombosis).

In the spine, a DAVF may form from birth. This is however a matter of debate. Some neurosurgeons feel that a primitive artery-vein connection known as vascular peloton that normally disappears by the time of birth, may in fact persist in some persons (for reasons unknown), leading to spinal DAVF formation at that persistent site(s).

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4. What are the symptoms of a dural arteriovenous fistula (DAVF)?

This depends on the location of the fistula:

  • A cranial DAVF may present with pulsatile tinnitus (whooshing sound heard by the patient), or pulsatile proptosis (abnormal eye bulging and pulsation, possibly associated with staining of the eye referred to as chemosis, and impairment of vision and/or eye movement). It may present with isolated but persistent or progressive headache, or symptoms and signs of a brain hemorrhage including sudden severe headache, neurological impairment and/or collapse, or with symptoms and signs of an ischemic stroke ( take me to the Brain Attack section now).
  • A spinal DAVF may present with slow but progressive loss of function in the limbs (more often the legs than the arms), with impairment of leg movement and sensation, bowel and bladder dysfunction including incontinence, and progressive erectile dysfunction in males. Together, these constitute a syndrome referred to as progressive myelopathy from spinal cord swelling and damage. Sudden loss of limb function from hemorrhage in the spinal canal or spinal cord from a DAVF is regarded as a very rare event (such a presentation is more common with spinal AVMs, in which case there may be sudden, severe back pain, too).

    5. What are the complications of a dural arteriovenous fistula (DAVF)?

    The most feared complication of a cranial DAVF is brain hemorrhage. This is more likely to occur if the cerebral angiogram shows "cortical venous drainage" (see above). Brain hemorrhage can cause permanent neurological disability and death. There may be seizures following a brain hemorrhage.

    Depending on the location of the fistula, an unruptured fistula can cause progressive neurological impairment, including visual impairment resulting in blindness. In the spine, a DAVF typically causes progressive myelopathy (see above). Fortunately, prompt treatment of a spinal DAVF can lead to considerable neurological improvement.

    Go on to DAVF Page 2

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