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Patent Foramen Ovale: Causes and Treatment

A patent foramen ovale is an opening between the heart's right and left upper chambers—an opening that generally closes after birth during early infancy. It is a condition that doesn't typically require treatment, though it might lead to complications in some instances.

At CardioVascular Health Clinic, we offer comprehensive heart care services, helping patients recognize and address complex heart health issues.

What Causes a Patent Foramen Ovale?

A patent foramen ovale is an anomaly that forms shortly after birth.

A fetus does not breathe to get oxygenated blood. Before birth, the fetus receives oxygen-rich blood through the umbilical cord and from the placenta. The foramen ovale channels the blood through the baby's heart, where it is delivered throughout the body and to the brain. After the baby is born and starts to breathe, the foramen ovale begins to close. It is usually fully closed approximately one year after birth.

However, if the foramen ovale doesn't close, it is called a patent foramen ovale. This abnormality occurs in approximately one-quarter of the population. Most are never diagnosed.

Two upper and two lower chambers make up a normal heart. The atria, the upper chambers, receive incoming blood. The two lower chambers pump blood out of the heart by the left and right ventricles. A patent foramen ovale allows small quantities of blood to flow between the chambers, which sometimes causes medical complications.

There is no known cause.

What Are Patent Foramen Ovale Symptoms?

A patent foramen ovale is asymptomatic, meaning most people with the condition never know they have it.

Physicians don't usually check for it unless the condition creates a medical issue. However, if a heart condition is suspected, your doctor might perform a screening.

In addition to asking about your past health, your healthcare provider will conduct a physical examination. A diagnosis will also require tests. Some of these include:

  • Transthoracic echocardiography. This test is performed to check the efficiency of blood flow through the heart.
  • Transesophageal echocardiography. This exam uses ultrasound technology to visualize the internal structure through the esophagus. 

Your physician may perform other exams to view the patent foramen ovale, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a computed tomography (CT) scan.

Physicians might perform these tests in conjunction with a noninvasive bubble study. During a bubble study, a saline solution is introduced into a blood vessel so that the progress of the bubbles can be monitored during the imaging tests.

Patent Foramen Ovale and Stroke Risk

Because a patent foramen ovale does not cause symptoms on its own, the condition is typically identified during a screening for another medical issue. The most common issue is stroke.

A patent foramen ovale allows tiny amounts of blood to transfer between the heart's chambers, allowing blood clots to sometimes travel to the left side of the heart. This can lead to a blood clot traveling to the brain, where it can trigger a stroke.  

Other complications that can arise from this heart issue include:

  • Migraine headaches
  • Blood clots to the organs
  • Heart attack

Patent Foramen Ovale Treatment

Unless this condition leads to serious health complications, a physician might elect to monitor it rather than perform an intervention.

If you have a patent foramen ovale, you might be at increased risk of stroke. To reduce your risk, your doctor might recommend the following lifestyle habits:

  • Get plenty of cardiovascular exercise
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Don't smoke
  • Don't use illicit drugs
  • Start Aspirin therapy
  • Have periodic heart screenings

If you are concerned about your heart health, please contact our helpful representatives to schedule a screening today.

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I’m about one month out and things are so much better. At my two week evaluation my symptom score had gone from a 27 to a 7, and I’m sure it’s even better now. That speaks volumes. Now that I’m post recovery, there is no incontinence, I go to the bathroom much less and there are no ED side effects like there are with other procedures. In regard to my quality of life, well, I don’t maintain my life based on my proximity to a bathroom anymore.

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Susie H.

Dr. Parsons and staff are amazing. He truly listened to me from the consult. Staff showed genuine care for my progress post procedure. I had my follow up appointment today so satisfied with results. Blake made me comfortable from the start. He is an activist for uterine fibroids treatment beyond the standard.

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Professional and caring staff. Dr. Smith is very knowledgeable and shows genuine concern for your personal health. I enjoyed the background music in the procedure room, it really adds to the relaxing atmosphere.

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Dr. John Schrader is the most personable doctor we know. He stays on top of my dads health care and is genuinely concerned about his health. We never leave his office with questions. He answers them all. Even questions we don’t think of. Always professional but never cold or bad bedside manner. In our opinion he is THE BEST around.
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I came to Dr. Warren by a self referral for mals when it took me 8yrs 50+ doctors and thousands of dollars spent on no answers. My first visit I was scared I was just going to be gaslighted just like the past however I was pleasantly shocked when Dr. Warren immediately believed me. She took the time to review many disk I had brought from past tests. She never once dismissed me and listened to ever word I had to say. She scheduled one last test to confirm the diagnosis then I was scheduled for surgery right away. Surgery was a success and I can’t thank her and her staff enough. Dr. Warren truly saved my life.

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Dr. Garner literally saved my life 18 months ago and I've followed him to his new practice with Cardiovascular Health. He explains things so clearly, listens and is just a very nice person. His staff is great, too! I highly recommend!

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The staff, the nurses, and Dr. Parsons were all amazing. Everything was simple and went well – very Bravo Zulu (military phrase meaning "well done"). In addition to the great staff at CardioVascular Health Clinic, the facilities were clean and well maintained. I have no complaints about anything. The whole experience was A1. I would recommend Dr. Parsons to anyone. He made a huge impact on my life.

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