A patent foramen ovale (PFO) is a hole in the heart that doesn’t close naturally, as it should, after a baby is born. The hole is located in the wall that separates the heart’s top two chambers, or atria.
Heart PFOs are quite common; about one in four people have them but may not know it. A medical provider may later detect the hole during a test or treatment for another health issue.
Hearing that you or your child has a hole in the heart may sound worrisome. The good news is that most people who have PFOs never have any symptoms and don’t need to do anything about it. If you do need treatment, we can often perform a minimally invasive repair.
Our heart specialists are among the most experienced health providers in the region. When we work with you on PFO diagnosis and treatment, we offer:
PFOs rarely create symptoms, which is why people usually never know they have one. In rare cases, babies who have PFOs develop a bluish color when they cry or strain during a bowel movement. However, these babies tend to have other, detectable heart defects as well.
We don’t know exactly why people develop PFOs. The condition may have genetic ties, meaning that it runs in families. People who regularly have migraines with auras also seem to have PFOs more frequently.
We don’t usually look for a PFO unless you have severe migraines, a stroke or transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), which are small strokes. Researchers are now looking at connections between people who have PFOs and later develop strokes for unknown reasons. There may be some connection between the two conditions.
We can often diagnose a heart PFO with a heart ultrasound, or echocardiogram. The ultrasound creates images of your heart’s structures. If you have a hole in your heart, your doctor is likely to see it during this test.
Learn more about heart ultrasounds (echocardiograms) at Aurora.
In most cases, we don’t need to close the PFO or provide any other medical treatment. However, there may be times when your doctor will recommend intervention: