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Key Points

  • Disease summary:

    • Hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (HHT) is a disorder of vascular development that results in direct communication between arteries and veins.

    • Multiple organs are affected and the development of clinical features is age dependent. Telangiectases in the nose cause epistaxis severe enough to cause chronic anemia. Vascular anomalies in the brain and spinal column cause stroke or seizures. Pulmonary arteriovenous malformations (PAVMs) cause hypoxemia and high-output cardiac failure because of shunting and provide a conduit for clots and bacteria to cause embolic stroke and cerebral abscess. Hepatic AVMs cause high-output cardiac failure and cirrhosis. A late finding is gastrointestinal (GI) telangiectases that cause chronic blood loss.

    • While today mortality is only modestly increased, the clinical features cause considerable morbidity and diminished quality of life.

  • Hereditary basis:

    • HHT is an autosomal dominant condition of considerable variability found in all populations. Reproduction is little affected so sporadic cases are uncommon. Most cases (>80%) are due to mutations in either ENG or ACVRL1, the products of which function as cell surface receptors in the TGF-β/BMP signaling pathway. Mutations in SMAD4 cause HHT combined with juvenile polyposis. Some families show linkage to none of these loci.

  • Differential diagnosis:

    • A number of syndromes include cutaneous or sclera telangiectases (ataxia telangiectasia, CREST syndrome, chronic liver disease, hereditary benign telangiectasia, pregnancy) but not the visceral vascular anomalies.

    • An isolated PAVM can occur in the absence of other features of HHT.

    • Vascular dysplasias can accumulate in GI mucosa with age and cause chronic blood loss.

Diagnostic Criteria and Clinical Characteristics

Diagnostic Criteria for HHT

The Curacao criteria have been expanded to include molecular genetic testing. In the absence of a mutation, three of the following four criteria are required to diagnose HHT:

  • Epistaxis

  • Visceral AVMs

  • Mucocutaneous telangiectases

  • A family history of documented HHT

Having two of these criteria qualify for possible HHT.

Having a pathogenic mutation in ENG, ACVRL1, or SMAD4 known to cause HHT in either the patient’s family of another individual with documented HHT qualifies for a diagnosis of HHT.

Clinical Characteristics

Patients present with recurrent epistaxis, anemia, cutaneous telangiectases, dyspnea due to hypoxemia or heart failure, liver failure, embolic or hemorrhagic stroke, or cerebral abscess.

Screening and Counseling


When HHT is suspected, such as in a relative of a person with documented HHT or in a person with one of the Curacao criteria, a protocol for establishing or discarding the diagnosis of HHT is as follows:

  • In a family in which the pathogenic mutation is known, DNA testing is the most effective and most economic method of screening.

  • Brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to detect cerebral vascular anomalies and occult stroke(s) and cerebral abscess.

  • Contrast ...

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