Patent Foramen Ovale

A patent foramen ovale is a small hole in the heart that does not close the way it should after birth. During a baby's development, the foramen ovale, a small flap-like opening, is located in the atrial septum between the right and left upper chambers of the heart. It allows blood to go around the lungs during fetal circulation to speed up the travel of blood through the heart. It normally closes during infancy, but if it does not it is called a patent foramen ovale, or PFO. In about one out of four people, the hole does not close. Most people do not even know they have the condition until it is discovered during tests or while seeking treatment for other problems, such as a stroke.

PFOs usually cause no symptoms, and less than 1 percent of people ever need to have a PFO closed. Having a PFO may be upsetting, but most never need treatment. The cause of a PFO is unknown, and there are no known risk factors. Infants with a PFO but no other heart abnormalities should enjoy normal health.


UAB Medicine has a long history of caring for patients with adult congenital heart disease (ACHD). Our Alabama Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program is the only one in Alabama and one of only a handful in the country that provides continuing care for patients as they move into adulthood. It has the full range of expertise to manage and treat ACHD. The program has seen significant growth in recent years, with approximately 1,700 patient visits and more than 50 surgeries performed annually. The program strives to maintain follow-up care for its patients in an effort to identify and treat symptoms earlier and prevent small problems from turning into more serious issues.

The Alabama Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program partners with cardiologists and primary care physicians to care for this growing patient population at convenient clinic locations throughout the Birmingham area and in Huntsville and Montgomery. Our team combines the expertise of physicians and staff from several UAB Medicine specialties, including pediatric cardiology, adult cardiology, cardiovascular surgery, cardiovascular anesthesia, and maternal fetal medicine. Our team also includes clinicians with specialized training in surgical interventions, echocardiography, catheterization, electrophysiology, heart failure, pulmonary hypertension, and MRI & CT imaging.

Thanks to advances in pediatric congenital care, the life expectancy for most patients now reaches far into adulthood, but more than 60% stop seeing a cardiologist once they turn 18. UAB’s Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program is designed to prevent that gap in care. In addition, our expertise greatly increases the chances that symptoms will be identified early. This helps ensure that smaller problems are addressed before they develop into larger, more life-threatening issues such as heart failure, arrhythmia, residual congenital heart defects, endocarditis, and stroke.

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Related Conditions

Listed below are some conditions that may be related to or share some similarities with the condition addressed on this page.



UAB is an active participant in research and clinical trials for the diagnosis and treatment of patent foramen ovale. We encourage you to speak to your physician about research and clinical trial options and browse the link below for more information.

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