Patent Foramen Ovale

When in the womb, babies get oxygen from their mother's blood, which is circulated from the placenta to the umbilical cord. The blood travels to the heart, bypassing the lungs through a small hole in the two upper chambers of the heart called a foramen ovale, which ordinarily closes after birth. However, in 25 percent of babies, this small hole fails to close resulting in a condition called a patent foramen ovale (PFO).

Most children with this heart defect never experience symptoms. But in some cases, a PFO can cause breathing problems when the child enters adulthood. The condition also is one of the greatest risk factors for stroke and coronary heart disease in adults.

Most infants with a patent foramen ovale (PFO) won't experience symptoms. In some cases, though, a baby with a PFO and other heart or lung problems may turn blue, a condition known as cyanosis, when coughing, crying or having a bowel movement.

To diagnose a patent foramen ovale (PFO), your doctor will use an echocardiogram. This is a non-invasive test that uses sound waves to create detailed moving images of the heart.

Treatment of a patent foramen ovale (PFO) is necessary only if the condition causes problems. In the past, open-heart surgery with a long recovery period was required. Heart specialists now close PFOs with a non-surgical procedure that involves cardiac catheterization and a special device that patches the hole between the right and left atrium.

In cardiac catheterization, a long, flexible, narrow tube called a catheter is inserted into a vein in the leg or neck and threaded through the vein to the heart. The size of the PFO is then measured and a repair device is selected for closure. If the PFO is unusually large, catheter closure may not be possible.

Show More

Learn More

UCSF Research & Clinical Trials

Other Resources

 

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.

Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers

Heart Center

Cardiothoracic Surgery Program
1825 Fourth St., Sixth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 476-3501
Fax: (415) 353-4144

Interventional Cardiology Program
1975 Fourth St., Second Floor
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 353-4704
Fax: (415) 353-4144
Appointment information

Pediatric Heart Center Clinic at Mission Bay
1825 Fourth St., Sixth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 353-2008
Fax: (415) 353-4144
Appointment information

Related Conditions