One-third of patients who have a hole between their heart’s left and right atria suffer from low oxygen levels during exercise. The hole is known as patent foramen ovale (PFO). A Cleveland Clinic study found that surgically closing the defect can stop this low-oxygen effect.
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The Cleveland Clinic study involved 50 patients with PFO who were referred to a congenital heart disease clinic. Each patient climbed up and down three flights of stairs, while their pulse and oxygen level were monitored.
Each patient started with normal oxygen levels. During the assessment, 17 of the patients had a serious drop in oxygen levels. Ten of these patients underwent percutaneous closure of the PFO. Three months later, they could do the same stair exercise without a drop in oxygen levels. And a significant improvement in overall exercise capacity was seen after the PFO repair.
“These are exciting results for this field. We often see patients after device implant for recurrent strokes who tell us that they feel better after their closure. I’ve always assumed that it was a ‘placebo effect’ from having an invasive procedure performed.
“However, our results help to explain why they feel better; as a result we now routinely measure oxygen saturations with exercise in all PFO patients we see,” says cardiologist Richard Krasuski MD, lead author of the study.
PFO is a condition that affects up to 25 percent of the population.
Dr. Krasuski noted that the study’s findings were in patients referred to a specialty cardiology clinic; they may not apply to all patients with PFO.