Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) is a congenital heart defect that is characterized by a hole in the wall that separates the left and right chambers. The hole is a normal part of fetal development. Before birth it redirects the blood around the lungs.
It should close shortly after delivery, but it does not always happen. A PFO results when the hole fails to close. Genetics may play a role, but the cause is unknown. Approximately 25% of the population has PFO, and countless people are unaware of it. Some find out when tests are performed to diagnosis and treat of other conditions.
Symptoms of patent foramen ovale do not occur unless other heart problems exist, and it is very easy to miss. A test must be performed to diagnose PFO. It involves injecting the patient with a saltwater solution and observing the heart using an echocardiogram ultrasound. If the patient has patent foramen ovale, bubbles will pass from the right chamber to the left chamber of the heart.
Unless other heart problems are present or a stroke occurs, patent foramen ovale is usually left untreated. It usually does not cause problems. When treatment is required it involves cardiac catheterization to close the PFO.