patent foramenovale


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, known as the atria. This is a fairly common condition, occurring in about 25% of the general population. 

It’s unclear what causes the foramen ovale to remain open in some people, although genetics may play a role. This condition is sometimes found with other conditions, such migraines with auras or strokes. 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.


Most people don’t experience complications or symptoms of a patent foramen ovale. It’s often diagnosed accidentally, when tests are performed to identify other heart concerns. In rare cases, babies with PFO develop a bluish color, known as cyanosis, when they cry or strain to have a bowel movement. They tend to have other congenital heart defects as well.


Your doctor can diagnose PFO with an echocardiogram, an ultrasound of the heart, which creates images of the structures and function of the heart.

services & treatment

Most people with a PFO can lead completely normal lives. However, if you’ve been diagnosed with a PFO, it’s recommended that you avoid activities that could limit your oxygen level, such as traveling to high altitudes. You’re also more likely to develop decompression sickness when scuba diving. Check with your health care provider before engaging in these activities.

Although closing a PFO isn’t usually necessary, it may be recommended if your oxygen levels are too low. Sometimes surgeons close it if they are performing heart surgery for another reason. When surgeons close a PFO, they can open up the heart and stitch the opening closed, or they can plug the hole using a catheter.

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Aurora has a cardiovascular specialty center dedicated to treating people with adult congenital heart diseases, including PFO. We offer the latest imaging technology available, to help ensure your heart conditions are correctly diagnosed.

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