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Understand what patent foramen ovale (PFO) is, how it affects stroke risk, and treatment options.

WHAT IS PATENT FORAMEN OVALE?

During development, prior to birth, a channel between the right and left sides of the heart called the foramen ovale, allows blood from veins to bypass the lungs. In about 33% of people, the foramen ovale does not close completely after birth. When the foramen ovale remains open, it is called a “patent foramen ovale” or a PFO. Typically, a PFO causes no problems. However, in some cases, it can allow a small amount of blood to pass from the right side of the heart to the left side of the heart.

Figure 1Figure 2Figure 3

This diagram shows an open foramen ovale before birth, a closed foramen ovale after birth, and a patent foramen ovale after birth.

HOW DOES A PFO AFFECT STROKE RISK?

Blood clots can develop in your veins for various reasons and travel to the right side of the heart. Normally, they are then pumped to the lungs, which act as a filter. However, a PFO can allow those clots to bypass the lungs and cross to the left side of the heart. From there, they can be pumped to the brain, causing a stroke.

Patients who have a PFO and have had a cryptogenic stroke may be at an increased risk for having a second stroke. In some patients, a second stroke can be prevented by having the PFO closed.

LEARN ABOUT PFO CLOSURE

UNDERSTANDING YOUR OPTIONS FOR PFO TREATMENT

If you’ve had a cryptogenic stroke and have also been diagnosed with a PFO, it’s important to talk to your doctor about the benefits and risk of available treatment options to reduce your risk of having another stroke. There are several treatment options your doctor may discuss, including medication, or closure of the PFO either with open heart surgery or with the Amplatzer™ PFO Occluder.

BLOOD-THINNING MEDICATION

Your doctor may prescribe blood-thinning medication to reduce your chance of having blood clots. Aspirin (taken daily) is the recommended medication for most patients to reduce the risk of having another ischemic stroke. Some physicians recommend stronger blood-thinning medications called anticoagulants.

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OPEN HEART SURGERY TO CLOSE THE PFO

Most open heart surgeries are performed through an incision across the full length of the breastbone or sternum. Open heart surgeries require the use of a heart-lung machine which takes over the function of the heart temporarily. Today, open heart surgery is rarely performed to close a PFO.

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PFO CLOSURE WITH THE AMPLATZER™ PFO OCCLUDER

The Amplatzer PFO Occluder is a device that can be placed in your heart to close the PFO through a minimally invasive, catheter-based technique, and is designed to stop blood flow through the PFO.