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Arteriovenous shunts of the cervical spine: patient demographics, presentation, patterns of high-risk venous drainage, and updated classification.

BACKGROUND: Intracranial dural arteriovenous (AV) fistula classifications focus on presence/absence of retrograde flow in the cortical veins of the brain as this angiographic finding portends a worse prognosis. However, prior categorization systems of AV shunts in the spine do not incorporate these features. We propose an updated classification for spinal shunting lesions that terms any shunting lesion with retrograde flow in any cortical vein of the brain or spinal cord medullary vein as "high risk". To present this classification, we analyzed our center's most recent experience with cervical spine shunting lesions.

METHODS: The electronic medical record at our institution was reviewed to identify shunting lesions of the cervical spine and patient demographics/presentation. Comprehensive craniospinal digital subtraction angiograms were evaluated to classify shunt location, type (arteriovenous malformation (AVM) vs arteriovenous fistula (AVF)), and presence of high-risk venous drainage.

RESULTS: Some 52 lesions were identified and categorized as pial/dural/epidural/paravertebral AVFs and intramedullary/extraspinal AVMs. Lesions were classified as high risk or not depending on the presence of retrograde flow into at least one vein that directly drains the spinal cord or brain. All patients who presented with either hemorrhage or infarct had underlying high-risk lesions. Additionally, 50% (17/34) of symptomatic patients with high-risk lesions presented with neurological extremity symptoms (OR=10.0, p=0.037) most of which fit a myelopathic pattern.

CONCLUSION: We present an updated classification system for shunting lesions of the spine that focuses on high-risk retrograde flow to the brain or spine in addition to anatomical location in order to better inform patient management.

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