Patent Foramen Ovale

Overview

A patent foramen ovale (PFO) is a hole in your heart that fails to close naturally after birth. This hole is located in the atrial septum, the wall that separates your heart’s top two chambers, or atria. PFO is a fairly common condition that occurs in about 25% of the general population.

Studies have shown that PFO is associated with an increased risk of stroke, especially among those under age 55. However, most people with this condition never have a stroke and PFO treatment is rarely required.

Symptoms

It’s unclear what causes a patent foramen ovale to remain open in some people, although genetics may play a role. PFO is sometimes found with other conditions like migraines with auras or strokes. However, most people don’t experience any patent foramen ovale symptoms or complications whatsoever.

In rare cases, babies with PFO symptoms develop a bluish color when they cry or strain to have a bowel movement. These infants tend to have other congenital heart defects as well.

Diagnosis

PFO is often diagnosed accidentally, when tests are performed to identify other heart conditions.

Your doctor can perform a patent foramen ovale diagnosis with an echocardiogram, or heart ultrasound. This ultrasound creates images of the structures and function of the heart, allowing your doctor to view the hole in your heart and make a PFO diagnosis.

Services & Treatment

Most people with a PFO can lead completely normal lives. However, if you’ve been diagnosed with a PFO, your patent foramen oval treatment may involve certain lifestyle changes.

  • Avoid activities that could limit your oxygen level, such as traveling to high altitudes
  • Be careful when scuba diving because you’re more likely to develop decompression sickness
  • Check with your doctor before engaging in these activities and ask about other PFO treatment options

Although medical PFO treatment isn’t usually necessary, it may be recommended if your oxygen levels are too low.

Sometimes surgeons close the hole in your heart if they’re performing heart surgery for another reason. When surgeons close a PFO, they may open up the heart and stitch the opening closed, or they can plug the hole using a catheter.

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