Prevalence of patent foramen ovale in patients with stroke

N Engl J Med. 1988 May 5;318(18):1148-52. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198805053181802.


The cause of ischemic stroke in younger adults is undefined in as many as 35 percent of patients. We studied the prevalence of patent foramen ovale as detected by contrast echocardiography in a population of 60 adults under 55 years old with ischemic stroke and a normal cardiac examination. We compared the results with those in a control group of 100 patients. The prevalence of patent foramen ovale was significantly higher in the patients with stroke (40 percent) than in the control group (10 percent, P less than 0.001). Among the patients with stroke, the prevalence of patent foramen ovale was 21 percent in 19 patients with an identifiable cause of their stroke, 40 percent in 15 patients with no identifiable cause but a risk factor for stroke, such as mitral valve prolapse, migraine, or use of contraceptive agents, and 54 percent in 26 patients with no identifiable cause (P less than 0.10). These results suggest that because of the high prevalence of clinically latent venous thrombosis, paradoxical embolism through a patent foramen ovale may be responsible for stroke more often than is usually suspected.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Ischemia / etiology
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / etiology*
  • Echocardiography
  • Female
  • Heart Septal Defects, Atrial / complications*
  • Heart Septal Defects, Atrial / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mitral Valve Prolapse / complications