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Patent Foramen Ovale

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 7, 2024.

What is a patent foramen ovale (PFO)?

The foramen ovale is an opening between the right and left atria (the 2 upper chambers of the heart). The opening looks like a flap. All babies are born with a foramen ovale. The foramen ovale normally closes when the baby takes his or her first breath after being born. It should completely seal by the time a baby is 6 months to 1 year old. When it does not close and seal as it should, it is called a patent (open) foramen ovale. A PFO can last a few years or into adulthood. The cause of PFO is not known.

Patent Foramen Ovale

What are the signs and symptoms of a PFO?

A small PFO usually does not cause any signs or symptoms. A larger PFO may cause any of the following:

How is a PFO diagnosed?

A PFO is often found during tests for other conditions. Your healthcare provider may want to check for a PFO if you had a stroke with no known cause. The stroke may be from a blood clot that traveled through the PFO and was pumped out to your brain. You may need any of the following:

How is a PFO treated?

A PFO that does not cause health problems usually does not need to be treated. A large PFO can cause a stroke, migraine headache, or other health problems. The following may be used to prevent a stroke or treat the PFO:

What can I do to improve my heart health and help prevent a stroke?

If you had a stroke or are at risk for stroke or heart disease, healthcare providers will give you instructions. The following is general information:

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for any of the following:

When should I seek immediate care?

When should I call my doctor?

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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