Patent Foramen Ovale

What is a patent foramen ovale?

A patent foramen ovale (PFO) is a hole in the wall that that separates the heart’s two upper chambers (atria). All babies have this opening (called a foramen ovale) before birth to allow blood to bypass the lungs. Shortly after birth, the tissue usually grows together and closes the hole. But in about 25 percent of people, the hole remains open (patent), resulting in a PFO. Many people have a PFO and never know it.

A PFO is similar in location to atrial septal defect (ASD), but it is smaller and rarely causes problems on its own.

Some children with more serious heart defects also have a PFO. Unless a child has other heart defects, it is unlikely that he or she will ever have symptoms or problems from PFO.

What are the symptoms of patent foramen ovale?

Most children have no symptoms from a patent foramen ovale (PFO) unless they also have other heart defects.

In rare cases, a baby with a PFO will develop a bluish skin tone (cyanosis) when straining or crying.

Some studies have also associated PFOs with an increased risk for migraine headaches and cryptogenic stroke (a stroke with no known cause).

What are the causes of patent foramen ovale?

It is not know why this opening doesn’t close in some people, but it’s thought that heredity and genetics may play a role.

How we care for patent foramen ovale

It’s unlikely that your child will need treatment for an isolated PFO. But if your child does need care, our team in the Boston Children’s Hospital Heart Center treats some of the most complex pediatric heart conditions in the world.

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.