Heart Specialists Provide Expert Care for Patent Foramen Ovale

The heart specialists at University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute are dedicated to providing expert care for patients with patent foramen ovale, also called PFO. Through close monitoring and a variety of treatment options, we help PFO patients reduce their risk of stroke and more advanced coronary heart disease.

A foramen ovale is a small hole in the heart that naturally exists in babies who are still in the womb. Shortly after birth, the foramen ovale should close. In the event it does not close, a condition called patent foramen ovale or PFO occurs.

Although the majority of patients with this condition do not have any PFO symptoms, the condition may cause migraine headaches and increase the risk of stroke and heart attack. While the condition affects approximately 25% of Americans, many are unaware they are living with PFO.

Advanced Diagnostic Testing for PFO

In order to detect PFO, our heart specialists use various advanced diagnostic tests including:

  • Bubble study: A bubble study is performed during an echo or TEE. It involves filling an IV with agitated saline and placing it on the patient’s arm. The saline produces bubbles the doctor watches to determine if they move from one side of the heart to the other.
  • Echocardiogram (Echo): An echo is an ultrasound of the heart which evaluates blood flow across the heart valves and chambers.
  • Transesophageal echo (TEE): In a TEE, a probe with a tiny camera is placed in the esophagus to reveal a clearer image of the defect than an echo.

Cardiac Catheterization or Surgery for Severe Cases of PFO

If you have been diagnosed with PFO but do not have any symptoms or related problems, you will most likely not require treatment. However, if treatment is required for more severe cases of PFO, our heart specialists may recommend:

  • Medications: Medications for PFO are usually prescribed to thin your blood to prevent blood clots and stroke.
  • PFO Closure: If you’ve had more than one stroke or transient ischemic attack, closure of PFO may be recommended.

For PFO closure, our team at University Hospitals provides a range of procedures. Whenever possible, we’ll perform cardiac catheterization which involves the use of a long, flexible narrow tube called a catheter. The catheter is inserted into a vein in the neck or leg and threaded through the vein to the heart. Then, the size of the PFO is measured and a repair device is selected for closure.

In the event a hole is abnormally large, PFO heart surgery may be necessary to close the larger opening. Our team of skilled heart valve experts use minimally invasive surgical procedures using a tiny incision and robotic techniques. These more advanced techniques provide a less blood loss, less pain and a faster recovery.

Learn More about Heart Valve Expertise at UH

Our heart valve specialists at University Hospitals are dedicated to improving care for heart valve disease treatment through research and innovation. Our team is investigating the benefits of closing the PFO during heart surgery to correct another issue and other more efficient processes.

If you would like to learn more about how our valve and structural team at University Hospitals can help with PFO, contact one of our team members at a convenient location near you