Patent foramen ovale

What is patent foramen ovale?

Patent foramen ovale, commonly called “hole in the heart”, is a heart defect in which the heart muscle has an abnormal opening connecting the left atrium to the right atrium. This disease is present in the fetus because the lungs are not active and this cavity is functional for the passage of blood between the two atria of the heart: it is also essential for the oxygenation of the blood and for the proper functioning of the circulatory system. However, at birth or during the first year of life the patent foramen ovale must close.

Patent foramen ovale is a fairly widespread condition.

Symptoms of patent foramen ovale

It is a fairly widespread disease (according to statistics, it affects 30% of the adult population) and potentially serious, since it does not present any symptoms: the risk of complications, moreover, increases in people suffering from concomitant cardiac and neurological diseases and in people who practice underwater sports.

What are the causes of patent foramen ovale?

The causes of patent foramen ovale are still unclear, although there are several hypotheses that it may be caused by a genetic mutation. However, even this theory still presents many unresolved unknowns.

Patent foramen ovale treatments

Currently this disease is diagnosed in most cases with transcranial echo-Doppler. One of the ways to treat patent foramen ovale is through surgery, a decision that is made due to the presence of other heart defects (in children), the appearance of a serious heart problem or lack of blood flow to the lungs, or even in case of recurrent strokes (in adults). Procedures to close the patent foramen ovale can be of two types:

  • Through a cardiac catheter. A small “umbrella” is placed through a catheter, which will cover the cavity between the atria of the heart. As it is a percutaneous procedure, it is less invasive than surgery.
  • Surgical intervention. This practice is performed “open heart” and, although it is riskier than the percutaneous procedure, it is very useful in case the patient has other heart defects. Finally, people with patent foramen ovale and a predisposition to blood clot formation should undergo specific pharmacological treatment to prevent or reduce the possibility of stroke.
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Which specialist treats patent foramen ovale?

The specialists who treat patent foramen ovale are cardiologists and cardiac surgeons.