Pulmonary arteriovenous fistula is an abnormal connection between an artery and vein in the lungs. As a result, blood passes through the lungs without receiving enough oxygen.
Pulmonary arteriovenous fistulas are usually the result of abnormal development of the blood vessels of the lung. Most occur in patients with Rendu-Osler-Weber disease (ROWD) – now commonly called hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (HHT). These patients often have abnormal blood vessels in many parts of the body, including the lung.
Fistulas also can be a complication of liver disease or lung injury, although this is much less common.
Exams and Tests
The doctor or nurse will examine you. The exam may show:
- Abnormal blood vessels (telangiectasias) on the skin or mucus membranes
- Abnormal sound, called a murmur when a stethoscope is placed over the abnormal blood vessel
Tests that may be done include:
A small number of patients who have no symptoms may not need treatment. For most patients with fistulas, the treatment of choice is to block the fistula during an arteriogram (embolization).
Some patients may need surgery to remove the abnormal vessels and nearby lung tissue.
When arteriovenous fistulas are caused by liver disease, the treatment is a liver transplant.
The outlook for patients with HHT is not as good as for those without HHT. For patients without HHT, surgery to remove the abnormal vessels usually has a good outcome, and the condition is not likely to return.
Major complications after treatment for this condition are unusual. Complications may include:
- Bleeding in the lung
- Stroke due to blood clot that travels from the lungs to the arms, legs, or brain (paradoxical venous embolism)
- Infection in the brain or heart valve, especially in patients with HHT
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you often have nosebleeds or difficulty breathing, especially if you also have a personal or family history of HHT.
Because this condition is often genetic, prevention is not usually possible.
Arteriovenous malformation - pulmonary
Marelli AJ. Congenital heart disease in adults. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 69.
Shovlin CL, Jackson JE. Pulmonary arteriovenous malformations and other vascular abnormalities. In: Mason RJ, Broaddus CV, Martin TR, et al, eds. Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 54.
Review Date 8/25/2014
Updated by: Denis Hadijiliadis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.