The very idea of a hole in the heart may sound alarming, but it’s surprisingly common. On top of that, some people may have a hole in their heart and not even realize it.
In fact, the American Heart Association estimates that about a quarter of the American population has some type of hole in the heart. That’s around 82 million people!
If someone has a hole in their heart, it falls into one of two most common categories: patent foramen ovale (PFO) or an atrial septal defect (ASD).
A PFO is a type of hole in the heart that occurs in infancy. As a baby in utero, there is a hole in the heart tissue that separates the left and right chambers, also known as the interatrial septum. It exists to allow blood to bypass the fetal lungs since they don’t work until exposed to air after birth. However, once born, this hole naturally closes during infancy and if it doesn’t, the hole that continues to exist is known as a PFO.
As a type of heart defect that develops during infancy, there are no clear risk factors or causes. There is some evidence that genetics could play a role, but this is not a clear cause.
Oftentimes, this type of hole is so small, the only effect it has on heart function is a minimal amount of blood leaking between the right and left chambers, which may only occur when there are higher-than-normal pressures in the right side of heart.
Unless a PFO is detected during childhood, it may go undetected for years. In fact, it’s often a secondary diagnosis made as a result of careful investigation and diagnosis for another condition.
While these holes may be present, they’re often left undiagnosed because they don’t typically cause any issues or symptoms. But that isn’t always the case. Larger holes in the heart can increase your risk of serious health issues, including migraine or stroke, and may require treatment.
How is PFO diagnosed and treated?
While PFO typically causes no symptoms, there may be some instances where testing is needed to confirm a diagnosis. Your cardiologist may utilize the following to detect a PFO:
- Transesophageal Echo
- Bubble Study
If you have a PFO, your cardiologist may or may not recommend treatment. Next steps depend on whether you are experiencing any related symptoms or problems. In some cases, medication may be prescribed, but the most common form of treatment is a closure device.
To deploy a closure device, a minimally-invasive structural heart procedure is performed using a specialized catheter. Creating a small incision in the groin, a catheter is guided to the heart and the closure device is carefully placed to close the hole from both sides. These procedures are performed by highly-trained interventional cardiologists and patients are evaluated in collaboration with cardiothoracic surgeons.
Why choose Georgia Heart Institute?
When there are conditions affecting the structure of the heart, like PFO or ASD, it’s essential to receive highly-specialized care that starts with a precise diagnosis and innovative treatment options. As the state’s most-forward thinking heart and vascular program, the experienced interventional cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons of Georgia Heart Institute, provide cutting-edge care to treat the full spectrum of structural heart diseases. With a complete, multi-disciplinary approach through the Structural Heart Program, each patient receives the innovative treatment they need to feel their best.
Receiving structural heart care at Georgia Heart Institute
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