The foramen ovale is an opening in the part of the heart that separates the upper right and left chambers (atria). In a fetus, this opening has a flap of tissue that acts like a one-way door—it allows blood to flow to the left side of the heart without going to the lungs, and it is kept open by the pressure of the blood that passes through it.
Normally, when the baby is born and takes the first breath, blood begins to flow through the lungs, and the foramen ovale closes within a few days. Sometimes, this opening remains open (patent) and is called a patent foramen ovale. A patent foramen ovale is also called a PFO.
A PFO usually does not cause problems.
If you do not have problems, such as a stroke, then typically no treatment is recommended.
A PFO might be treated if you had a stroke caused by a blood clot. Treatment includes a catheter procedure or surgery to close the opening in the heart.
Current as of: September 7, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & John Pope MD - Pediatrics & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & Larry A. Latson MD - Pediatric Cardiology