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Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO)

Some people are born with a small opening in the heart, connecting the right and left side. This opening typically doesn’t cause complications, unless a blood clot forms in the leg, as with a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). If this clot travels up to the heart via the blood stream, it can cross the PFO opening and go to the brain, causing a stroke. This type of stroke is more common with young people.

What Are the Symptoms of PFO?

  • This is generally a hidden condition without signs or symptoms.
  • Often a TIA or stroke is the first sign of a PFO. Patients younger than age 55 who have an unexplained (cryptogenic) stroke are more likely to have a PFO. These patients are also more likely to have a deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

How is PFO Diagnosed?

Specialized testing is required usually including:

  • Echocardiogram (echo, an ultrasound of the heart)
  • Transesophageal echo (TEE)
  • Agitated saline study (also called a ‘bubble study’ where microbubbles are used to look for a connection from the right to left side of heart)

You may need other tests to check your heart rhythm or look for conditions that increase your risk of blood clots.

How is PFO Treated?

If you have a PFO but do not have symptoms or any related problems, you may not need treatment. If treatment is needed, you may need to take blood-thinning medication or have the PFO closed through a minimally invasive procedure. Our Structural Heart team does this procedure through a small tube (catheter) in the leg and inserts a small device to close the PFO opening. The procedure is performed with light sedation and generally does not require an overnight stay.

Our Commitment to Shared Decision Making

Our team will work with you to understand the benefits and risks of the various PFO treatment options, and partner in the decision process based on your needs, values, and preferences.

Patient Resources

FAQ - Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) Closure