Ask the experts

PFO: A harmless heart hole?

Patient talking to his doctor

I’m 73 years old and my doctor just told me I have a hole in the heart called a PFO, but he doesn’t want to do any surgery to close it. Is this normal and why hasn’t it been picked up sooner?

Professor Peter Weissberg says:

A patent foramen ovale (PFO) is a small flap-like opening between the top two chambers of the heart. This is part of the foetal circulation when you’re in the womb, allowing blood to bypass the lungs and take oxygen straight to the brain and body.

In most people, this closes when they’re very young, but for some, it stays fully or partially open. This usually doesn’t cause any symptoms or problems with the function of your heart, so it often isn’t picked up until you have tests for other conditions.

Most people will not require surgery to close it or medications, unless you have other conditions, such as a history of stroke, or have a high risk of developing blood clots.

Some research shows a possible link between PFO and suffering with certain types of migraine, but more studies are needed before we can confirm this.

Professor Peter WeissbergMeet the experts

Professor Peter Weissberg is the former Medical Director of the BHF and Honorary Consultant Cardiologist to Addenbrooke’s Hospital. He has a special interest in atherosclerosis.

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