Patent foramen ovale and paradoxical systemic embolism: a bibliographic review

Aviat Space Environ Med. 2003 Jun;74(6 Pt 2):B1-64.


A patent foramen ovale (PFO) has been reported to be an important risk factor for cardioembolic cerebrovascular accidents through paradoxical systemic embolization, and it provides one potential mechanism for the paradoxical systemic embolization of venous gas bubbles produced after altitude or hyperbaric decompressions. Here, we present in a single document a summary of the original findings and views from authors in this field. It is a comprehensive review of 145 peer-reviewed journal articles related to PFO that is intended to encourage reflection on PFO detection methods and on the possible association between PFO and stroke. There is a heightened debate on whether aviators, astronauts, and scuba divers should go through screening for PFO. Because it is a source of an important controversy, we prefer to present the findings in the format of a neutral bibliographic review independent of our own opinions. Each cited peer-reviewed article includes a short summary in which we attempt to present potential parallels with the pathophysiology of decompression bubbles. Two types of articles are summarized, as follows. First, we report the original clinical and physiological findings which focus on PFO. The consistent reporting sequence begins by describing the method of detection of PFO and goal of the study, followed by bulleted results, and finally the discussion and conclusion. Second, we summarize from review papers the issues related only to PFO. At the end of each section, an abstract with concluding remarks based on the cited articles provides guidelines.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Astronauts
  • Decompression Sickness / complications
  • Decompression Sickness / therapy
  • Embolism, Air / physiopathology
  • Embolism, Paradoxical / complications*
  • Embolism, Paradoxical / prevention & control
  • Extravehicular Activity / adverse effects
  • Heart Septal Defects, Atrial / complications*
  • Heart Septal Defects, Atrial / diagnosis
  • Heart Septal Defects, Atrial / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hyperbaric Oxygenation / methods
  • Posture / physiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Stroke / complications