KidsMD Health Topics

Patent Foramen Ovale in Children

  • Overview

    If your infant or child has been diagnosed with a patent foramen ovale (PFO), Children’s Hospital Boston can help you understand your child’s condition and cope with this relatively common congenital (present at birth) heart defect. Unlike many other heart defects, PFO in isolation (occurring by itself without other defects) usually causes no symptoms and doesn’t need treatment—making your child’s outlook for future health very positive.

    • A foramen ovale is a hole (flap) between the wall (atrial septum) that separates the heart’s right and left upper chambers (atria).
    • Before a baby is born, this flap is a naturally occurring opening, allowing blood to bypass the fetus’ lungs, which will not receive oxygen until the baby’s first cry at birth.
    • After birth, the foramen ovale seals in 75 percent of people. In the other 25 percent, the opening fails to seal and remains open (patent)—this persistently open hole is a patent foramen ovale. It is similar in location to ASD (atrial septal defect), but its effects on the body are extremely limited.
    • The exact cause of PFO is unknown, but it’s thought that heredity and genetics may play a role.
    • Unless a child has other associated heart defects, it is unlikely that symptoms or complications from PFO will ever occur.
    • Rarely, a baby with a PFO will develop a bluish skin tone (cyanosis), noted especially with straining (as in a bowel movement) or crying.
    • A PFO is often closed surgically if it’s associated with more complex heart defects, such as hypoplastic left heart syndrome, Ebstein’s anomaly or pulmonary atresia.

    How Children’s Hospital Boston approaches patent foramen ovale

    Our team in Children’s Heart Center understands that a diagnosis of a PFO can be distressing for parents. It’s unlikely that your child will need treatment for an isolated PFO. But if further understanding or therapy is suggested, you can have peace of mind knowing that our doctors treat some of the most complex pediatric heart conditions in the world, with overall success rates approaching 98 + percent—among the highest in the nation among large pediatric cardiac centers.

    Our clinicians will work closely with you to determine the right treatment plan for your child. We provide families with a wealth of information, resources, programs and support—before, during and after your child’s treatment. With our compassionate, family-centered approach to treatment and care, you and your child are in the best possible hands.

    Patent foramen ovale: Reviewed by Michael Landzberg, MD

    © Children’s Hospital Boston, 2011

    Boston Children’s a world leader in pediatric research

    Consistently ranked among the top pediatric hospitals in the United States, Children’s is home to the world’s most extensive pediatric hospital research enterprise; and we partner with elite health care and biotech organizations around the globe. But as specialists in innovative, family-centered care, our physicians never forget that your child is precious, and not just a patient.

    Read the stories of Boston Children’s patients with heart disease …

    … hear words of wisdom from their parents, siblings and caregivers in our Experience Journal.

    Visit our Heart and Blood Vessels pages …

    … to learn how the heart works.

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