Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO)
When a baby is in the womb, there is a
normal trap-door type opening between
the top chambers of the heart. This
opening is there so that the baby’s blood
that carries the most oxygen can flow to
the baby’s brain. In most babies, this
opening closes soon after birth. It is also
common for it not to close until a baby is
If the opening does not close, it is called
a patent foramen ovale, or PFO. Studies
show that 25-30% of adults have a PFO,
and most do not know they have it. It is
considered normal for children and
adults and not thought to be a heart
abnormality or heart defect.
Signs and Symptoms
It is rare for infants and children with a
PFO to have signs or symptoms. A PFO
does not cause a heart murmur. Because
any blood that flows through the hole is
at low pressure, no extra sounds are
heard when listening to the heart.
Usually a PFO is found when looking
for something else. A heart ultrasound
test called an echocardiogram will show
a PFO if it is there.
No treatment is needed as a PFO rarely
causes any problems.
During certain types of activities, such
as deep sea diving, extreme mountain
space travel, the pressures in the heart
could change and a clot could travel
across the PFO out to the body. If you
do any of these activities, please talk
with your primary care provider.
Who Do I Call With Questions?
The doctor or nurse or our clinic staff
can answer any questions.
Pediatric Cardiology (608) 263-6420
Adult Congenital Heart Disease (608)
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call
if you have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with
your doctor. This is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical
condition. Because each person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on
your health care team when using this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright
10/2017. University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the
Department of Nursing. HF#7362