Four days ago we reported that Bret Michaels had been rehospitalized with a “minor stroke”, or more accurately a transient ischemic attack. During that hospitalization doctors had found a “hole in his heart.” At the time, no specific details were given about the specific heart defect. This morning, Bret Michaels, after winning Celebrity Apprentice last night, revealed on the Today show that the diagnosis was a PFO- which stands for patent foramen ovale.
What is a Patent Foramen Ovale?
When a baby is in the womb, it gets all the oxygen it needs from its mother through the umbilical cord. Since the lungs are not used, the neonate’s circulatory system shunts blood away from the lungs until birth when the baby takes its first breath. One way it does this is through a small opening between the upper chambers of the heart- the right and left atria. This opening functionally closes within the first couple of days of life, and then is permanently sealed over the first one to two years of age. However, in approximately one in four people, the opening does not permanently seal closed.
Unless there are other associated defects, there are usually no complications associated with a PFO. There have been some studies suggesting that older patients with PFOs have a higher rate of a certain type of stroke (called paradoxical thromboembolic stroke). The reason for this is that older people frequently develop blood clots in the veins in their legs. These clots can sometimes travel from their original site to the right side of their heart.
If a PFO is present, the clot can then pass from the right side to the left side and may travel to the brain and become lodged there, preventing blood flow to that part of the brain (stroke).
For more information:
Patent Foramen Ovale