A Serious Condition Many of Us Don’t Even Know We Have

May 01, 2017

One-fourth of babies are born with a kind of hole in the heart, called a patent foramen ovale (PFO). It’s a flap that doesn’t close properly after birth.

Although PFOs are common, most people never know they have the condition and never need any kind of treatment. It’s often discovered during tests for other problems.

But PFOs can become serious or life-threatening when small blood clots move through the flap, travel to the brain and cause a stroke. In the past, doctors had trouble identifying the cause of the stroke but today they know cryptogenic strokes (which are of unknown origin and account for 30% of strokes in young people) are caused by PFOs. These strokes usually occur in people who are younger than 55 years of age.

PFOs also can cause problems in patients who are scuba diving or skydiving – where again a blood clot moves through the PFO to the brain, causing a stroke.

Once the PFO is discovered – usually after a stroke – an elite team of CHI Health cardiologists is specially trained to close the hole with a special device.

The patient undergoes local anesthesia and the cardiologist inserts the FDA-approved device through a tiny puncture in the groin and closes the flap in the heart.

The entire procedure takes less than 30 minutes.

PFOs not only can cause strokes; they also may be responsible for certain types of migraines.

Himanshu Agarwal, MD, and CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center - Bergan Mercy took part in a very prestigious PFO migraine trial. The study looked at whether closing the hole can treat migraines in young women. Bergan was one of only three sites in the Midwest to be invited to participate in the trial.