Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: Stroke danger from a hole in the heart?

Q. I just discovered that I have a hole in my heart that my doctor called a patent foramen ovale, which was found during an ultrasound. What are the pros and cons of having it repaired?

A. All people start off with an oval, flap-like opening (called a foramen ovale) between the right and left upper chambers of their hearts. This small hole usually closes during infancy. But in about one in four people, it stays open and is known as a patent foramen ovale (PFO). Most people with the condition have no symptoms and never know they have it unless it's discovered by accident, as happened to you.

Some research suggests that a PFO is more common in people who have a so-called cryptogenic stroke. Most strokes result from a clot blocking blood flow to part of the brain, and when doctors can't find what caused the stroke, it's known as cryptogenic (meaning "of hidden origin").

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