A patent foramen ovale (PFO) is a hole between the left and right atria of the heart. It exists in every individual before birth and usually closes shortly after birth. When the foramen ovale fails to close naturally after a baby has been born, it is called a patent foramen ovale. Although the condition is common, most individuals fail to notice that they have it. A patent foramen ovale is typically discovered during tests for other problems and although it can lead to stressful worry, in most cases, treatment is not needed for this condition.
In most cases, a patent foramen ovale does not cause any signs and symptoms which is why most individuals fail to notice they have it since it is usually a hidden condition.
A foramen ovale allows blood flow to go around the lungs and since a baby does not use its lungs as it grows in the womb, the hole does not cause any problems to the unborn child. The umbilical cord delivers oxygen rich blood to the baby’s right atrium and most of this blood moves through the foramen ovale and into the left atrium. From there, the blood goes to the left ventricle, which pumps it throughout the body. Blood also moves from the right atrium to the right ventricle, which also pumps blood to the body by another bypass system. Once a baby’s lungs begin functioning as they should and the blood circulation is on a normal route, the pressure of the blood usually forces the foramen ovale shut. If the opening fails to close after birth, a patent foramen ovale is formed. The exact cause is unknown, although genetics seems to play a role.
Usually, a patent foramen ovale doesn't cause complications; however, there are studies that have found the condition to be more common in individuals with certain conditions such as unexplained stroke due to blood clots in the heart or a migraine with aura. In some cases, a patent foramen ovale can cause an increased amount of blood to bypass the lungs, resulting in low blood oxygen levels (hypoxia). This usually happens when other conditions are present, such as congenital or valvular heart disease or pulmonary hype.
Most individuals with a patent foramen ovale don't need treatment. In certain cases, a doctor might recommend a procedure the close the patent foramen ovale. Instances such as:
· If a child is undergoing surgery to correct a congenital heart defect as well a patent foramen ovale
· If an adult is undergoing another type of heart surgery, a patent foramen ovale may be closed at the time of the operation.
· If blood oxygen levels are low, closure of a patent foramen ovale may be done to treat these levels linked to the patent foramen ovale.
Surgical and other procedures for closure include the following:
· Cardiac catheterization: A medical procedure used to diagnose and treat heart conditions through the insertion of a device into the area necessary for monitoring.
· Surgical repair for a patent foramen ovale: A medical procedure that is used to close the patent foramen ovale by opening up the heart and stitching shut the opening.
· Medical management: Anti-platelet therapy may be helpful for individuals with a patent foramen ovale who have had a stroke. It can help reduce the risk of blood clots crossing a patent foramen ovale.