Posts Tagged ‘PFO’

Devil in the Slot

March 2, 2010

BONUS: 100 Karma Points to the first person who can leave a comment telling me where the title of this post originated!

You have a heart defect.

No, I’m not talking about the 1 in 125 of us who live with a Congenital Heart Defect, I’m talking about YOU. Mr. or Mrs. Average. You were born with a heart defect. Two of them, actually.

Obviously, you don’t need to breathe while you are still in your mother’s womb. You can’t breathe, unless you can somehow magically breathe fluid. So your lungs are “turned off” and you have two small defects that allow the heart to function but blood to bypass the lungs and pick up its oxygen from your mother. When you are born and you take your first breath, the body sends a signal to those two defects to shut down and for the lungs to take over.

(Pretty cool, huh?)

One of these small defects is called the foramen ovale and it is really a very small Atrial Septal Defect. In fact, it isn’t really a hole in the septum, it is two overlapping flaps. When you begin to breathe and blood begins to flow properly, these two flaps will eventually seal closed and everything will be great. In about 30% of people, however, it doesn’t close. When that happens, it is called a patent foramen ovale, sometimes called a PFO (“patent” means “stuck open”).

Many times this doesn’t cause much of a problem; sometimes it is even undetectable unless the patient coughs while having an ultrasound.

Now here is the problem: when a person has a PFO, or when it is slow to close, occasionally a small “pouch” forms in the wall of the Left Atrium. Doctors at the University of California at Irvine recently found that pouch while doing autopsy research, and it could be the source of several problems.

That little pouch is nice and quiet; any blood that gets in there settles down – it’s no longer part of the normal blood flow, and it is pretty calm in there. While the heart is pumping and blood is churning all around it, it’s a nice quiet little neighborhood… almost a gated community. (This Link has a good explanation and has a nice drawing of the pouch about halfway through the article. )

That’s not good. Blood can settle in the pouch and form a clot. And since it is on the left side of the heart, the clot skips the lungs (which not only add oxygen to the blood, but they also act as scrub brushes, too!) and then it is off on a tour of the body. Round and round she goes, where she stops nobody knows. But if it stops in the wrong place….


So if the doc tells us we have a PFO, we should get it closed, right? Perhaps, and perhaps not. The medical evidence isn’t in yet. We know what might happen, what could happen – but how many times is the pouch really the cause of a stroke? We don’t know yet. A clinical study (the RESPECT trial) is being conducted right now to determine if a PFO causes more strokes. At least one doctor isn’t waiting to find out – she’s full steam ahead. The Food and Drug Administration is saying wait a minute, slow down, catch your breath… let’s see what the evidence says. Then we can decide. (You really need to read what Isis has to say about PFOs, she gets the point across quite well, in simple English and with a lot of humor, too!)

So, is there really a devil hiding in that “slot” that could be in your heart? And if there is, what are the chances of him coming out? No one knows… yet.


Migraine Headaches and Heart Defects

February 1, 2009

Is your migraine headache caused by a heart defect? It’s possible!

Recent research has uncovered an interesting tidbit of information:  People with an Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) or a Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) who suffer from migraines can see a reduction in the number and severity of headaches when their defect is closed.

Many people may go their entire lives with a ASD or PFO and never know they have it; or if it is detected, their doctor reports that the opening is so small that the best course of therapy is just to monitor it.  With advancing technology and improvement in Catheters, repair of the defect became more practical. The fact that migraine headaches faded or went away completely was a happy side effect of the repair.

It doesn’t always work – one study showed a small number of patients (4 out of 97) actually developed migraine symptoms (their headaches disappeared after several months) and there is at least one known case of a person who developed a migraine every day – with no relief of symptoms.

When I was younger, I averaged a “dizzy spell” per month – just a few moments when everything seemed to take a few steps to the right. Usually it cleared up in less than a minute, but at least once a year I could count on having a really bad bout of dizziness.

Everything would start spinning and it just wouldn’t stop. And it didn’t stop until I had thrown up. So I learned that rather than suffer until things happened naturally, it was best to shove a finger down my throat. Sorry if that thought turns your stomach, but I’d rather do that than to suffer.

Then one day while I was in college it hit me: Dizzy spell, and a bad one. But a friend and I had made plans to get dinner at one of our favorite restaurants that night, so I had a light lunch. A very light lunch – a soda and a pack of Nekots, if I remember correctly.

In case you didn’t know, you can’t throw up on an empty stomach. Finally after about two hours of the world spinning, I think my body just decided it had had enough and the dizzy spell let me go. I got back to my room and slept fourteen hours!

After I had my pacemaker installed, the dizzy spells went away. I haven’t had one since, not even a mild one. No one has ever figured out why, it’s just “one of those things!”

So if you are having migraines, ask your doctor about the possibility of you having an ASD or a PFO. A few days in the hospital getting the repair could end them!