Patent Foramen Ovale

It’s not unusual to have a type of hole in your heart called a patent foramen ovale (PFO). It’s also not necessarily a problem, as most people don’t have symptoms unless they have a second heart condition.

Sometimes, though, a PFO may increase your risk of stroke. At Henry Ford Health System, we can help you assess the possible danger and provide you with treatment options.

Why choose Henry Ford for a patent foramen ovale?

Our Center for Structural Heart Disease has extensive experience treating PFO. In addition to medication and monitoring, our team offers minimally invasive procedures to close cardiac holes, if needed.

What is a patent foramen ovale (PFO)?

A baby in the womb gets oxygen from its mother’s blood, not its own lungs. Until birth, an opening (foramen ovale) between the heart’s upper chambers (atria) allows blood to bypass the baby’s lungs.

When the baby takes its first breath after birth, blood begins flowing from the lungs to the heart. Normally, the pressure from this blood flow starts to close the PFO, and it seals shut within a few months. But for one in every four people, the hole never closes completely.

Risk of stroke with PFO

A patent foramen ovale may increase the risk of stroke, from tiny blood clots that develop in the veins and may travel to the brain. Normally, small veins (capillaries) in the lungs stop this possibility by filtering out the clots. But with a PFO, the blood clots may go through the hole and enter the rest of the body. If they get swept up into the brain, they can block blood flow there and cause a stroke.

Causes and symptoms of patent foreman ovale

PFO develops after birth when the normal opening between the atria does not close.

A PFO does not produce symptoms unless you have another heart condition, but it can increase your risk of stroke.

Diagnosing patent foramen ovale

We can diagnose a patent foramen ovale with a thorough evaluation. You can visit us at our main campus, Henry Ford Hospital, or Jackson (Henry Ford Allegiance) or Clinton Township (Henry Ford Macomb).

During your first visit, we meet with you to:

  • Talk about your symptoms and lifestyle
  • Perform a physical exam
  • Review your medical history
  • Look at previous tests or imaging studies
  • Determine whether you need additional heart tests and scans

Innovative treatment for PFO

If you have a PFO, your doctor may recommend treating it, with several options possible:

  • Medication and monitoring: You probably don’t need to have the defect closed if you’ve never had a stroke or experienced symptoms attributable to the PFO. If that’s the case, our team asks you to visit your doctor for ongoing monitoring. We can also prescribe medication to reduce your risk of stroke.
  • Minimally invasive heart procedure: Our team may recommend a procedure if you’ve had a stroke that we feel was caused by the PFO. Our doctors can use a catheter (small tube) to reach the hole through a blood vessel and close it. This approach avoids the need for open-heart surgery, for a faster recovery and fewer complications. Learn more about cardiac hole closure.
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