Treatments for Patent Foramen Ovale in Children

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Contact the Heart Center

Having identified your child's PFO, we at Boston Children's Hospital can begin the process of treating him. Our specialized training in pediatric cardiology means that we understand the unique challenges, circumstances and intricacies of working with young people who have heart conditions. In addition to our medical expertise, we provide patient-centered care that always recognizes your child as an individual—and we offer resources to meet the needs of your entire family.

Treatment options

Most often, a baby or child with a PFO doesn't need treatment at all. If your child needs surgery to treat an associated defect, the PFO may be closed at the time of the surgery.

When is it necessary to close the patent foramen ovale surgically?

Closing a PFO surgically—usually by insertion of a device that “plugs” the PFO and is gradually enveloped by the body's tissue—may be useful in limited select circumstances.

  • During every heartbeat, the PFO flap between the right and left atria pops open and allows blood to pass through.
  • The heart pumps, then fills; if the heart is thickened or develops changes in its filling pattern, it may require more pressure to fill certain chambers.
  • A greater pressure in the right sided atrium relative to the left sided atrium could cause the right side of the flap of the PFO to pop open allowing “blue” (oxygen-deprived) blood to leak to the left side of the body, resulting in:
  • cyanosis (bluish tinge to the skin)
  • orthodeoxia (decrease in oxygen within the arterial blood when sitting upright)
  • platypnea (shortness of breath when sitting upright)

Surgical repair of a PFO

Surgery to repair a PFO is a fairly simple procedure that takes only a couple of hours at most. Children often need at most an overnight stay at the hospital, and can go home the same or the next day.

  • A catheter is used to guide a special closing device to the PFO site (CardioSEAL is an example of a common type of device).
  • The device expands, forming a patch that covers the entirety of the hole.
  • The device remains in the heart permanently, eventually becoming enveloped by the body's own tissue.

After your child's procedure, an anti-clotting medication is often prescribed for a number of months as a precautionary measure.Doctors will schedule routine follow-up visits to make sure the device has held its placement and is working well.

Coping and support

At Children's, we understand that a hospital visit can be difficult, and sometimes overwhelming. So, we offer many amenities to make your child's—and your own—hospital experience as pleasant as possible. Visit our Center for Families for all you need to know about:

  • getting to Children's
  • accommodations
  • navigating the hospital experience
  • resources that are available for your family

In particular, we understand that you may have a lot of questions if your child is diagnosed with a PFO. How will it affect my child long term? What do we do next? We can connect you with a number of resources to help you and your family through this difficult time, including:

  • patient education: Whether your child needs just an evaluation or surgery, our nurses will be on hand to walk you through your child's treatment and help answer any questions you may have. We'll also reach out to you by phone, continuing the care and support you received while your child was at Children's.
  • parent-to-parent: Want to talk with someone whose child has been treated for a PFO? We can often put you in touch with other families who've been through the same procedure that you and your child are facing, and who will share their experiences.
  • faith-based support: If you're in need of spiritual support, we'll connect you with the Children's chaplaincy. Our program includes nearly a dozen clergy— representing Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Roman Catholic and other faith traditions—who will listen to you, pray with you and help you observe your own faith practices during your hospital experience.
  • social work: Our social workers and mental health clinicians have helped many families in your situation. We can offer counseling and assistance with issues such as coping with your child's diagnosis, stresses relating to coping with illness and dealing with financial difficulties.

As your child reaches adulthood, you'll want him to know about our Boston Adult Congenital Heart (BACH) and Pulmonary Hypertension Service. Children's is a founding institution of BACH, an international center for excellence providing long-term inpatient and outpatient care and advanced therapeutic options as needed for congenital heart disease patients as they reach and progress through adulthood.

Children's an interventional catheterization pioneer

You'll be comforted to know that Children's pioneered interventional catheterization for many congenital heart defects and is a leader in the use of this procedure.

Boston Children’s is so much more than a hospital—it’s a community of researchers, clinicians, administrators, support staff, innovators, teachers, patients and families, all working together to make the impossible possible. ”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

Boston Children's Hospital
300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115
For Patients: 617-355-6000
For Referring Providers: 844-BCH-PEDS | 844-224-7337