Definition of Patent foramen ovale
While a baby grows in the womb, there is a normal opening between the left and right atria (upper chambers) of the heart. If this opening fails to close naturally soon after the baby is born, the hole is called patent foramen ovale (PFO).
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
A foramen ovale allows blood to bypass the lungs. A baby’s lungs are not used when it grows in the womb, so the hole does not cause problems in an unborn infant. The opening is supposed to close soon after birth, but sometimes it does not. In about 1 out of 4 people, the opening never closes. If it does not, it is called a patent foramen ovale (PFO).
Infants with a patent foramen ovale and no other heart defects do not have symptoms.
Signs and tests
An echocardiogram can be done to diagnose a PFO. If the PFO is not easily seen, a cardiologist can perform a “bubble test.” Saline solution (salt water) is injected into the body as the cardiologist watches the heart on an ultrasound (echocardiogram) monitor. If a PFO exists, tiny air bubbles will be seen moving from the right to left side of the heart.
This condition is not treated unless other heart abnormalities exist or if you had a stroke caused by a blood clot to the brain.
The infant will have normal health in the absence of other heart defects.
David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc., and Kurt R. Schumacher, MD, Pediatric Cardiology, University of Michigan Congenital Heart Center, Ann Arbor, MI. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. – 12/28/2009