Study objective: Patent foramen ovale (PFO) is present in 10 to 35% of people and has been reported to be an important risk factor for cardioembolic cerebrovascular accidents (CVAs) and transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), especially in younger patients. While contrast transthoracic echocardiography has been used to detect PFO, contrast transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) has a greater sensitivity. Prior studies reported the incidence of PFO in patients presenting with a CVA or TIA.
Design: To determine the incidence of PFO in a more general population, we reviewed 1,000 consecutive TEEs performed with contrast and color Doppler for the presence of PFO and other cardioembolic risk factors, including atrial septal aneurysm (ASA), aortic plaque, atrial fibrillation (AFib), and atrial thrombi. While imaging with monoplane or biplane TEE, multiple injections of agitated saline solution were injected during cough or Valsalva maneuver to detect flow through a PFO.
Patients: There were 482 male and 518 female patients with mean age of 60 +/- 17 years (range 11 to 93 years).
Results: Patent foramen ovale was found in 9.2% of all patients and, though seen in all age groups divided by decade, the incidence in patients aged 40 to 49 years was greater than those aged 70 to 79 years (12.96% vs 6.15%, p = 0.03). Contrast TEE had a much higher detection rate than color Doppler alone. Importantly, there was no greater incidence of PFO in patients with CVA vs those without CVA, or in male vs female patients. Also, there was a very strong correlation between the presence of ASA and PFO (p < .001).
Conclusion: Thus, PFO detected by TEE, frequently seen with ASA, is seen in all age groups and does not in itself present a risk factor for CVA. The association of PFO with peripheral thrombosis and CVA needs further study.