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Does Patent Foramen Ovale Run In Families & Does A PFO Cause Fatigue?

Most conditions of patent foramen ovale have genetic ties and run in families meaning people who have migraines inherit the condition.1

Several studies show PFO is a family trait and seems to run in families.2

Most of the time patent foramen ovale does not cause symptoms however when there is a stroke there can be disruption in the blood transmission and cause symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, or cardiac rhythm abnormalities.3,4

Does Patent Foramen Ovale Run In Families?

Several studies were conducted on family pedigrees and most theories showed a strong association that PFO is an inherited condition. The primary objective of these studies is to elucidate the involvement of specific genes in maintaining patency in patent foramen ovale. A study was conducted by the Los Angeles School of Medicine on 750 patients with PFO, out of these patients 26 families were identified to have inherited the condition and 5 families close to 15 individuals were recruited for genetic testing.1

Heart patent foramen ovale’s are often diagnosed using an echocardiogram or an ultrasound and other forms are typically diagnosed using transcranial Doppler imaging with agitated saline. Most cases were shown to have genetic ties meaning they run in families.

For instance, patients who suffered migraines periodically were diagnosed with PFO in several instances. Your healthcare provider will not suggest patent foramen ovale diagnostic tests unless you have a recurrent migraine, severe stroke, or ischemic attacks.

Based on these analyses and available DNA samples it is evident that PFO is a family trait. Exome sequencing showed 25 transmutations on thirteen distinctive genes among the patients with and without patent foramen ovale. Further genetic testing is still in progress to show the dominant inheritance of atrial shunts and to prove the association in inheritance of migraine with aura in some families.2

Does PFO Cause Fatigue?

PFO in most patients do not produce symptoms nor disrupt heart functions. So, people can carry out all their daily chores normally however due to its genetic characteristics it inherits certain traits along with syndromes such as fatigue, shortness of breath, or cardiac rhythm abnormalities.

This is because when the mitochondria are slow the heartbeat is more irregular and can result in the hole between the right and the left atria which should have closed when the infant takes its first breath at the time of birth. When there is an opening in the foramen ovale the blood bypasses the lungs and doesn’t pick oxygen as it should often leading to the amplifying problem.

As the oxygen levels go low it will result in acute fatigue or even loss of consciousness. This has been noticed in patients with chronic fatigue disorder and clinical studies have proved that 90% of patent foramen ovale patients suffer fatigue. Although these studies don’t provide 100% reliability on their results yet 100 % of chronic fatigue syndrome patients have PFO. 3,4

Patent foramen ovale is an abnormality in the normal fetal development that is noticed in 25 % of the population. PFO is a canal that allows the flow of blood from venous to arteriosus circulation through the atria. The condition is often associated with cryptogenic attacks, ischemic heart strokes, visual auras, and other medical complications.

Hearing that you or your child having a hole in the heart may feel worrisome however the good news is most conditions do not show any symptoms and you need not do anything about it. Even treatment requires small invasive surgery.


  1. Wilmshurst, P T, et al. “Inheritance of Persistent Foramen Ovale and Atrial Septal Defects and the Relation to Familial Migraine with Aura.” Heart (British Cardiac Society), Copyright 2004 by Heart, Nov. 2004, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1768524/.
  2. “Patent Foramen Ovale.” Aurora Health Care, www.aurorahealthcare.org/services/heart-vascular/conditions/patent-foramen-ovale.
  3. “Patent Foramen Ovale as a Cause of Fatigue.” Patent Foramen Ovale as a Cause of Fatigue – DoctorMyhill, www.drmyhill.co.uk/wiki/patent_foramen_ovale_as_a_cause_of_fatigue.
  4. “Heart & Vascular.” Barnes, www.barnesjewish.org/Medical-Services/Heart-Vascular/Conditions-Treatments/Congenital-Heart-Disease-in-Adults/Congenital-Defect-Closure.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:December 4, 2020

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