Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO)
Up to 25% of the general population has PFO.
A fetus in the womb doesn’t breathe through its own lungs, but gets the oxygen he or she needs through the mother’s umbilical cord. With no need to flow through the baby’s lungs, oxygen rich blood can travel directly through the heart using the “foramen ovale,” a small hole that provides a shortcut between the upper chambers of the heart. Normally this hole closes at birth, and heals over the first few months of life. When it doesn’t, it’s called a patent (meaning “open”) foramen ovale.
Most people with PFO live their lives without symptoms or problems.
PFO is a relatively common condition, and many people who have it do not experience symptoms. However, research has shown that a PFO may increase your risk of stroke and heart attack. PFO is usually discovered only when testing is being done for other health problems. If a PFO is suspected, an echocardiogram can confirm the diagnosis. Most PFO patients do not require treatment, although sometimes a blood thinner or procedure to close the hole (either via catheterization or surgery) may be needed in more severe cases.
Symptoms may include:
• Most people have few or no symptoms
• Migraine headaches