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PFO (Patent Foramen Ovale) Closure

The patent foramen ovale (PFO) is a small tunnel located in the atrial septum that is used during fetal circulation to bypass the lungs; when in the womb, a baby does not use its own lungs to obtain oxygenated blood. Usually the foramen ovale closes at birth when the slightly increased blood pressure on the left side of the heart holds the tunnel closed and it then seals.

If the atrial septum does not close completely, the tunnel is called a patent foramen ovale. This type of defect generally works like a flap valve, only opening during certain conditions when there is more pressure inside the chest. This increased pressure occurs when people strain while having a bowel movement, cough, or sneeze.

In some patients a cardiologist and a neurologist may recommend closure of a PFO. Nowadays PFO tunnels are closed through a small skin incision rather by surgery. Through this incision, catheters (hollow, flexible tubes) are inserted into the vein in the groin and advanced to the heart. A balloon may be placed across the opening to determine the size and location of the hole in the heart. Measurements are taken of the pressure inside your heart chambers. If appropriate, the tunnel is then closed using an umbrella type of device.

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This page was last updated at 4:17PM on April 16, 2020.