Testing & Diagnosis for Patent Foramen Ovale in Children

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Contact the Heart Center


At Children’s Hospital Boston, we know that the first step in treating your child is forming an accurate, complete and timely diagnosis.

The exam

If your baby has a bluish skin tint, or if your young child is experiencing symptoms of a congenital heart defect, your pediatrician will refer you to a pediatric cardiologist (and/or neonatologist), who will perform a physical exam. Your child’s doctor will listen to your baby’s heart and lungs, measure the oxygen level in his blood (non-invasively) and make other observations that help to determine the diagnosis.

Your child’s cardiologist will also investigate whether he has a heart murmur—a noise heard through the stethoscope that’s caused by the turbulence of blood flow. The location in the chest where the murmur is best heard, as well as the sound and character of the murmur itself, will give the cardiologist an initial idea of the kind of heart problem your baby may have.

The tests

Some combination (not necessarily all) of the following medical tests is also used to diagnose a PFO:

  • electrocardiogram (EKG): An EKG is used to evaluate the electrical activity of your child’s heart. An EKG is usually the initial test for detecting a PFO. It is performed by placing electrodes on the arms, legs and chest to record the electrical activity. The test takes five minutes or less and involves no pain or discomfort.
  • echocardiogram (cardiac ultrasound): An echocardiogram evaluates the structure and function of your child’s heart using electronically recorded sound waves that produce a moving picture of the heart and heart valves. If your baby has a PFO, the ultrasound will reveal the right-to-left shunting of blood across the hole. No discomfort is involved. It takes 30-60 minutes. Younger children may need to be sedated.

Children’s proud history of heart care innovation

In 1938, Children’s cardiac surgeon Robert Gross, MD, performed the world’s first successful surgery to correct a child’s heart defect. Since that time, we have gained recognition around the globe for our leadership in pediatric cardiology, and continue to make critical advances in the field. In 2016, U.S. News & World Report ranked Children’s cardiology and cardiac surgery programs at the top of the nation’s pediatric hospitals.

We use the most sophisticated diagnostic and imaging procedures, including interventional catheterization

and we offer dozens of specialized services in such areas as heart valve replacement, cardiac anesthesia, robotic surgery, and fetal cardiology.

We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

Boston Children's Hospital 300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115 617-355-6000 | 800-355-7944