What is Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO): Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis

What is Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO)?

The best way the medical term Patent Foramen Ovale, abbreviated as PFO can be defined is that it is a hole in the heart. That is, there is a heart condition in which one has a hole in their heart and that is called Patent Foramen Ovale. Patent foramen ovale (PFO) is a normal situation in unborn children. However, every patent foramen ovale (PFO) must close before a child is born. Patent foramen ovale (PFO) in unborn children is located amid the left & upper right chambers of the human heart called atria. If a child is born with a hole between the top chambers being closed, that child is diagnosed with patent foramen ovale (PFO).

During the fetal development of a human child, foramen ovale also develops. The main purpose of the foramen ovale is to speed up the circulation of blood inside a child’s heart. While a child is in the mothers womb, it does not use its own lungs for oxygenated blood. It rather relies on its mother to provide it with oxygenated blood through placenta. The foramen ovale greatly helps the blood to circulate faster in the absence of lung function. Although many people think this heart condition is rare, it actually is not- it affects 1 in 4 persons in the world or 25% of the world’s population.

Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO)

Causes of Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO)

What causes the foramen ovale not to close remains one of the biggest medical mysteries. The numerous studies conducted by cardiologists did not find a cause of what makes foramen ovale open after a child’s birth.

However, more recent studies conducted by top notch cardiologists around the world say that somehow genetics and heredity might play an enormous role in causing patent foramen ovale (PFO). What the parents of a child who were diagnosed with this disease should acknowledge to themselves is that they were not responsible for their kid’s patent foramen ovale (PFO). Especially, mothers of children born with this illness should not blame themselves for their child being born with PFO. Nothing a mother ate or drank would not cause patent foramen ovale (PFO).

Why is the Foramen Ovale Important?

The foramen ovale has been known to the medical professionals since 1564. In 1564, an Italian surgeon called Leonardi Botali was the first medical professional that had described the foramen ovale and had acknowledged its existence.

During the time in which a fetus develops in the mother’s womb, a small opening called foramen ovale form between the fetus’ two top chambers which are called atria. Foramen ovale is important for the fetus since it helps its heart to circulate the blood faster. Since a fetus’ lungs do not work in the mother’s womb, the child relies on its mother’s lung which provide it with the oxygenated blood. Oxygenated blood passes through the heart faster, thanks to foramen ovale.

Is Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) a Congenital Heart Defect?

Before we answer this question, we must first define what congenital means in order to provide you with a correct answer. Congenital means something that is present from the birth. Synonyms for congenital are congenital anomaly and birth defect.

The presence of foramen ovale is normal while the child is still in the mothers womb. If there were no foramen ovale in the child’s heart, it probably could not survive in its mom’s womb. However, every foramen ovale should close after the birth or at least one year after the birth. Since the presence of foramen ovale should be gone after birth, the patent foramen ovale (PFO) can be considered as a congenital heart defect.

Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) and Stroke

One sad fact regarding patent foramen ovale (PFO) is that nearly 100,000 people all around the globe with this condition get a stroke that is related to their patent foramen ovale (PFO).

Most strokes people experience are a result of blood clots clogging arteries to the brain and restricting the normal blood flow to the brain. When a part of the brain that is restricted with flow of the fresh blood, it literally dies and that is how a stroke occurs. Blood clots from any part of the body through patent foramen ovale (PFO) and later on get to the brain. If a blood clot makes its way through patent foramen ovale (PFO) to the brain, a stroke can easily happen.

Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) Vs. ASD (Atrial Septal Defect)

There are only two holes in the heart – the one we were talking about Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO), and Atrial Septal Defect (ASD). Although both of them are holes in the wall between the upper/top chambers of the human heart, their causes are very different.

An Atrial Septal Defect is a failure of the normal wall between two upper/top chambers of the human heart to form. An ASD hole is in general very larger than patent foramen ovale (PFO) hole. On the other hand, unlike ASD, patent foramen ovale (PFO) only occurs after the birth while ASD develops before the birth. ASD also produces more symptoms than patent foramen ovale (PFO).

Symptoms of Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO)

Just like for any medical condition, there are also signs and symptoms of patent foramen ovale (PFO). However, the most of the people that have patent foramen ovale (PFO) (25% of the world’s population), do not experience any signs and symptoms of patent foramen ovale (PFO).

However, when patent foramen ovale (PFO) becomes symptomatic, it presents itself with the following signs and symptoms:

  • Stroke is a symptom of patent foramen ovale (PFO).
  • Transient ischemic attack of undefined etiology.
  • Migraine.
  • Migraine-like symptoms.
  • Neurologic decompression illness- seen in scuba divers with patent foramen ovale (PFO).

Less common clinical manifestations of patent foramen ovale (PFO) include:

  • Acute myocardial infarct.
  • Fat embolism.
  • Systemic embolism – such as renal infarct.
  • Paradoxical embolism.

Risk Factors for Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO)

Since not even the cause of patent foramen ovale (PFO) is known in the medicine, neither the risk factors for one developing this condition are known.

However, some medical experts such as cardiologists and pediatricians think that a pregnant mother’s unhealthy diet and smoking might influence her unborn child to develop patent foramen ovale (PFO). Some cardiologists believe that genetics and a family history of cardiovascular diseases might be a risk factor for developing Patent Foramen Ovale.

Complications of Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO)

The good news for all the people that live today with patent foramen ovale (PFO) is that this heart defect usually does not cause any complications. However, if the other heart conditions are present together with patent foramen ovale (PFO), only then patent foramen ovale (PFO) might cause some complications.

For example, the people who were diagnosed with patent foramen ovale (PFO) are at a higher risk of getting a very specific type of stroke known as Paradoxical Thromboembolic Stroke. Other complications of patent foramen ovale (PFO) include sleep apnea, migraines, and shortness of breath. Luckily, most of the people do not have any complications that are related to their patent foramen ovale (PFO).

What is Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) Closure?

Patent Foramen Ovale Closure is the name of several surgical and invasive treatment options for the patent foramen ovale (PFO). Some of those invasive treatment options include:

  • Catheter-based PFO closure.
  • Percutaneous closure of patent foramen ovale (PFO).

There are also certain medical devices that were specially made to close a hole between the two upper/top chambers of the heart. Those devices come in various sizes depending on the size of a patent foramen ovale (PFO).

Tests to Diagnose Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO)

A medical doctor that specializes in heart condition might order the following tests that would confirm whether the kid has patent foramen ovale (PFO):

  • Echocardiogram can be defined as a noninvasive ultrasound scan of the heart. Ultrasound of the heart is a golden standard in diagnosing patent foramen ovale (PFO). However, there are also certain variations of this procedure that might be used in diagnosing patent foramen ovale (PFO).
  • Color flow doppler is a variation of Echocardiogram, which is used for the diagnosis. Color flow doppler shows the blood flow through the heart. A positive sign of patent foramen ovale (PFO) on Color flow doppler is the blood moving freely from one upper heart chamber to the other upper heart chamber.

Treatment for Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO)

Most of the people that were diagnosed with patent foramen ovale (PFO) do not need treatment for that heart condition. However, more severe cases of patent foramen ovale (PFO) need a surgical treatment that would include the closure of patent foramen ovale (PFO).

Antiplatelet therapy is also prescribed to people with patent foramen ovale (PFO) to lower their risk for getting a stroke.

Home Remedies for Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO)

There are no home remedies for patent foramen ovale (PFO). The only remedy for patent foramen ovale (PFO) is prescribed medications for this heart defect.

Recovery Period/Healing Time for Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO)

If a person undergoes a surgery for it’s patent foramen ovale (PFO), the healing time or recovery period after that procedure is usually 2 to 3 weeks.

Prevention of Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO)

There is no documented way with whose help one could prevent the patent foramen ovale (PFO).

Prognosis/Outlook for Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO)

Many parents whose children were diagnosed with patent foramen ovale (PFO), that heart condition has a very good prognosis or outlook. Most of the children that were born with this heart condition will have a normal life span without any complications related to patent foramen ovale (PFO).

Lifestyle Changes for Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO)

If your child or you were diagnosed with patent foramen ovale (PFO), you can relax in both of the cases since patent foramen ovale (PFO) is a heart condition that unlike other heart conditions, does not affect the quality of one’s life.

Lifestyle changes recommended for persons with patent foramen ovale (PFO) are to stay hydrated all the time and to relax briefly every one hour of a long road trip.

Coping with Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO)

Hearing that their child has a birth defect such as patent foramen ovale (PFO) can be traumatic for both of the parents and their family. However, a parent must be aware that the patent foramen ovale (PFO) is a heart condition that is not malignant and that it is not a life-threatening heart defect.

Patent foramen ovale (PFO) is rather a heart defect that does not require any special treatment.

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:April 14, 2017

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