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Arteriovenous Fistulas Workup

  • Author: Sateesh C Babu, MD; Chief Editor: Vincent Lopez Rowe, MD  more...
 
Updated: Oct 16, 2015
 

Laboratory Studies

Blood gas analysis in an arteriovenous fistula (AVF) reveals a higher oxygen saturation in the venous blood immediately distal to the fistula as compared with normal venous blood.

Hemodynamic assessment with flow directed balloon catheter (Swan-Ganz catheter) reveals high cardiac output and low peripheral vascular resistance (PVR).

Extremely large AVFs or arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) may present with low platelet count (due to turbulence and trapping of platelets), and occasionally, with laboratory findings of consumptive coagulopathy, such as low platelets, elevated prothrombin time (PT) and partial thromboplastin time (PTT), increased bleeding time, low fibrinogen, and elevated euglobulin clot lysis time (signs of fibrinolysis).

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Imaging Studies

Plain films may demonstrate soft tissue masses or abnormalities within bony structures.

Duplex ultrasonography is usually the initial study to delineate the extent and flow characteristics of the malformation. Doppler ultrasonography can be used preoperatively and intraoperatively, but it does not have any therapeutic use. Duplex scans will show reversal of flow in the artery distal to the AVF, the steal phenomenon, or proximal flow augmentation in mixed arteriovenous malformations.

Contrast-enhanced computed tomography (CT) is useful to locate the abnormality, to evaluate for aneurysm formation, and to identify bony involvement. A retrospective review by Biswas et al found four-dimensional CT angiography (CTA) to be accurate in characterizing AVMs and dural AVFs, yielding findings that agreed well with those of digital subtraction angiography.[11]

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is the criterion standard in the preoperative evaluation of patients with arteriovenous malformations (AVMs). MRI generates multiplanar views and can be used to accurately define tissue planes and to identify critical flow characteristics. It is the best modality to define local soft-tissue and adjacent organ involvement, which helps with preintervention planning. Magnetic resonance sequences can be postprocessed into magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) images (see the image below), which help define the malformation more clearly.[12, 13]

Hand angiogram demonstrating arteriovenous connect Hand angiogram demonstrating arteriovenous connections. Note the steal of blood from the fingertips.

Contrast angiography is the most important method for investigating AVMs or AVFs while also affording the capability for therapeutic interventions. It is an excellent method to delineate the number, location, and extent of the arteriovenous connections. Angiographic signs include early filling of veins, hypertrophied and tortuous arteries proximal to the malformation, and varicose and dilated veins distal to the fistula.

Radiolabeled studies can determine the shunt fraction, which is the proportion of blood being shunted through the fistulous tract.

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Other Tests

Plethysmography is useful for quantifying flow in a whole limb, but assessing blood flow through circumscribed areas is difficult. Ideally, plethysmography data are compared with normal data from the contralateral limb.

Thermography determines heat loss from a region. However, results are of limited clinical value because they do not reveal the location of the lesion accurately, and the data cannot be used to differentiate among various types of vascular malformations.

In AVFs involving limbs, segmental limb pressure measurements can document a significant drop in pressure distal to the fistula. This can be used before and after surgical correction of the fistula to confirm that the fistula has been eliminated.

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Procedures

Percutaneous biopsy is never indicated in the workup of a known vascular malformation; bleeding that is difficult to control may result. Biopsy should be performed if the suspected lesion is solid and falls into the category of vascular tumors.

Invasive and noninvasive cardiac evaluation may be indicated in patients with congestive heart failure because cardiac output can be markedly elevated in patients with large proximal AVMs. Cardiac output is best measured with invasive right-heart catheter techniques but can be evaluated noninvasively with echocardiography. In order to document success, measurement of cardiac output is indicated before and after surgical or interventional procedures to reduce the size of these larger AVMs.

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Histologic Findings

Histology documents arterialization of the thickening of the wall of the vein, including its muscular layer, and thinning of the artery in large, long-standing arteriovenous fistulas.

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Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Sateesh C Babu, MD Professor of Clinical Surgery, New York Medical College; Chief, Vascular and Endovascular Surgery, Westchester Medical Center

Sateesh C Babu, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Surgeons, American Heart Association, American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, American Medical Association, New York Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of Medicine, Society for Vascular Surgery, Stroke Council of the American Heart Association, Eastern Vascular Society, International Society of Endovascular Specialists

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Coauthor(s)

Mark D Morasch, MD, RPVI Vascular Surgeon, Section Head of Vascular and Endovascular Services, Billings Clinic; John Marquardt Clinical Research Professor in Vascular Surgery, Division of Vascular Surgery, Northwestern University, The Feinberg School of Medicine

Mark D Morasch, MD, RPVI is a member of the following medical societies: Society for Vascular Surgery, Western Surgical Association, Southern Association for Vascular Surgery, American Venous Forum, Vascular and Endovascular Surgery Society, Society for Clinical Vascular Surgery, Western Vascular Society, Midwestern Vascular Surgical Society, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, American Heart Association, Central Surgical Association, Western Vascular Society, Southern Association for Vascular Surgery

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Igor A Laskowski, MD Assistant Professor of Surgery, Section of Vascular Surgery, New York Medical College, Westchester Medical Center

Igor A Laskowski, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Surgeons, Society for Vascular Surgery, Americas Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Association, Vascular and Endovascular Surgery Society, Transplantation Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Vincent Lopez Rowe, MD Professor of Surgery, Program Director, Vascular Surgery Residency, Department of Surgery, Division of Vascular Surgery, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California

Vincent Lopez Rowe, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Surgeons, American Heart Association, Society for Vascular Surgery, Vascular and Endovascular Surgery Society, Society for Clinical Vascular Surgery, Pacific Coast Surgical Association, Western Vascular Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Vincent Lopez Rowe, MD Professor of Surgery, Program Director, Vascular Surgery Residency, Department of Surgery, Division of Vascular Surgery, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California

Vincent Lopez Rowe, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Surgeons, American Heart Association, Society for Vascular Surgery, Vascular and Endovascular Surgery Society, Society for Clinical Vascular Surgery, Pacific Coast Surgical Association, Western Vascular Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

William H Pearce, MD Chief, Division of Vascular Surgery, Violet and Charles Baldwin Professor of Vascular Surgery, Department of Surgery, Northwestern University, The Feinberg School of Medicine

William H Pearce, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Surgeons, American Heart Association, American Surgical Association, Association for Academic Surgery, Association of VA Surgeons, Central Surgical Association, New York Academy of Sciences, Society for Vascular Surgery, Society of Critical Care Medicine, Society of University Surgeons, Western Surgical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Acknowledgements

Dipen Maun, MD Staff Physician, Department of Surgery, Mount Sinai School of Medicine

Dipen Maun, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Medical Association, and American Medical Student Association/Foundation

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Buttock port-wine stain.
Lower extremity venous malformation.
Upper extremity arteriovenous malformation (AVM).
Hypertrophied subclavian artery resulting from low-resistance high-volume flow through an upper extremity arteriovenous malformation (AVM).
Hand angiogram demonstrating arteriovenous connections. Note the steal of blood from the fingertips.
 
 
 
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