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What Happens If The Patent Foramen Ovale Fails To Close & Can You Live With A PFO?

If the foramen ovale does not close all the way, the condition is called a patent foramen ovale and they result in complications.1

Unclosed PFO can lead to shortness of breath in the new born’s however in the unborn infant, the hole doesn’t cause a problem as babies don’t use lungs when in the womb. 2

The prognosis of patients with PFO looks impressive. Most patients live with it even without realizing they have a complication.3,4

What Happens If The Patent Foramen Ovale Fails To Close?

Holes in the heart in classified into two types: Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) and Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO). Although both develop in the walls of the septum, yet they are different in characteristics and complications. ASD most often results in congenital heart problems when there is a failure, and they are larger than PFO’s.

However, PFO occurs when the foramen fails to close after birth. The hole allows the blood to bypass the baby’s lungs which have no functionality until they are born. Foramen Ovale eventually closes when the infant takes its first breath and is sealed completely in most babies within a few months.1

The condition increases complications when it is accompanied by other heart problems and the most common problem is stroke. PFO when combines with atrial fibrillation increase the risk of cryptogenic stroke, transient ischemic attack, and heart attack. However, most conditions don’t show any signs and symptoms, but in rare cases, the infants may turn blue when crying or straining themselves during a bowel movement.

Other problems include   

  • Migraine headaches with aura
  • Higher risk of transient ischemic attack due to an increase in pressure on the chambers of the heart
  • atrial septal aneurysm and the top portion of the septum starts bulging2

Can You Live With A PFO?

When there is a hole in the heart it always seems like a problem. Yet most patients live with this condition without experiences any adverse health because it is usually a hidden condition that doesn’t provide any signs and symptoms. Therefore, most cases don’t require treatment.

Although strokes and migraines are complications of PFO, medical studies demonstrate that it is not a common occurrence. Treatment is not required when there are no risk factors, or the patients don’t have a history of stroke or traveling blood clots. Some cases may require surgery based on the size of the hole and complications developed especially if they had a stroke because of it. However, most patients recover completely and lead a normal healthy lifestyle.

Bruising is a common procedure, and the recovery time is typically between 2-6 weeks depending on the patient’s health condition and ability to recover from the procedure. They don’t disrupt the heart function and people can even perform exercises and carry out daily activities. But when you have shortness of breath, seek immediate medical attention.3, 4

Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) is a condition where there is a hole in the heart. This condition naturally develops in the infant while in the mother’s womb who is in the fetal circulation. It usually closes after birth however in certain babies it doesn’t close on its own and the condition is known as Patent Foramen Ovale.

This is one of the most common conditions occurring every one in 4 infants. PFO requires treatment only when the patient is accompanied by other cardiovascular complications.


  1. “Patent Foramen Ovale: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001113.htm.
  2. “Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) (for Parents) – Nemours KidsHealth.” Edited by Mary Bailey Mehta, KidsHealth, The Nemours Foundation, Apr. 2018, kidshealth.org/en/parents/pfo.html.
  3. “KidsHealth.org Search Results : Health – Nemours KidsHealth.” KidsHealth, The Nemours Foundation, kidshealth.org/en/parents/pfo.htmlwww.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/patent-foramen-ovale/symptoms-causes/syc-20353487.
  4. Ahmed, Dr. Mustafa. “PFO – Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO), aka a Hole In The Heart Patient’s Guide to Holes in the Heart.” MyHeart, 23 July 2017, myheart.net/articles/patent-foramen-ovale-pfo/.

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 2, 2020

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