Patent Foramen Ovale

A patent foramen ovale (PFO) is an opening between the upper two chambers of the heart that doesn’t close as it should, usually six to 12 months after birth.

A PFO usually causes no problems. If a newborn has congenital heart defects, the foramen ovale is more likely to stay open, which can be helpful to the baby’s condition.

A foramen ovale stays open in a developing fetus so that blood flow bypasses the lungs while the baby relies on the placenta for oxygen. The first breaths after birth change the direction of the blood flow, which helps push the foramen ovale closed.

With the formen ovale closed, blood flows from the right side of the heart into the newborn’s lungs to pick up oxygen, and then the left side of the heart sends the oxygen-rich blood out to the body. Eventually, the opening seals. In babies, kids and adults with a PFO, the flap remains unsealed.

Most babies who have a PFO don’t show symptoms and many active adults have a PFO and don’t even know it.

Sometimes having a PFO is helpful. Newborns with serious heart conditions or pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs) and a PFO may have less severe symptoms because the PFO lets blood from the two sides of the heart mix.

An illustration shows a PFO in a child's heart

Treatment of PFO in a Newborn and Older Patients

As the leading providers of pediatric heart care in Louisville and Southern Indiana, the specialists at Norton Children’s Heart Institute are experienced with PFO in newborns and older patients.

The board-certified and fellowship-trained specialists at Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the University of Louisville, have the skill and experience to provide a pinpoint diagnosis and discuss whether treatment is necessary.

PFOs aren’t likely to cause health issues later in life and most people with a PFO need no special treatment. But kids and adults should know that they have one if it is diagnosed.

PFOs may be treated if there’s another reason for heart surgery or a person’s risk for blood clots or stroke is higher than average. A PFO may increase the risk of strokes because the lungs usually filter out tiny clots in the bloodstream. When a person has a PFO, clots can slip from the right atrium to the left atrium and make their way to the brain. Even in a person who has had a stroke, treatment usually focuses on preventing clots rather than closing the PFO.

PFOs are found in one of every four adults and are more likely in newborns who have a congenital heart defect.

Why Norton Children’s Heart Institute?

Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the University of Louisville, is a comprehensive pediatric heart surgery, heart failure and heart transplant program serving Kentucky, Southern Indiana and beyond.

The goal of the full-service Norton Children’s Heart Institute is to provide care for the child and the whole family. Our specialists are prepared to repair even the most complex congenital and acquired heart conditions.

Our heart team includes:

  • Pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons
  • Pediatric transplant surgeons
  • Pediatric cardiologists
    • Fetal cardiologists
    • Adult congenital heart cardiologists
    • Heart failure/heart transplant cardiologists
    • Pediatric electrophysiologists
    • Pediatric cardiac catheterization cardiologists
  • Pediatric cardiovascular anesthesiologists
  • Pediatric intensive care physicians
  • Specially trained nurses
  • Specially trained pharmacists
  • Family support team
  • Child life specialists
  • Rehabilitation specialists
  • Social workers
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Norton Children’s Heart Institute

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(502) 629-2929

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