Patent Foramen Ovale

Patent Foramen Ovale, or PFO, is a hole in the septum that separates the upper chambers of the heart. This hole is normal (and necessary) in a baby in the womb, but usually closes sometime after birth.

Normally, blood that is oxygen poor travels from the body into the right upper chamber of the heart (right atrium). From there it travels to the right lower chamber (right ventricle) and then pumped out through the pulmonary artery to the lungs. After picking up oxygen, the blood travels to the left upper chamber (left atrium) to the left lower chamber (left ventricle). From there it is pumped out through the aorta and back to the body.

A PFO, or hole in the septum, can vary in severity from a valve like opening that does not allow blood to pass through except in certain conditions or an opening that allows blood to pass between the atria. A open PFO can allow oxygen-poor blood to travel from the left atrium into the right atrium. Blood traveling from the left atrium to the right atrium may increases the volume of blood in the heart. As a result both atria, the right ventricle, and the pulmonary artery may be enlarged.

Most patients with PFO do not have any symptoms or complications. In some people, a PFO may cause problems such as shortness of breath. It may also be a possible risk factor for clot formation in the bloodstream and stroke. Most PFO defects that cause problems (or are associated with other heart defects) can be closed by interventional catheterization technique. PFO may also be closed using a simple suture of patch technique.

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