Migraines and PFO: Will Closing a Hole in my Heart Cure Migraines?

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There’s a high correlation between migraines and PFO– patent foramen ovale, or a “hole in your heart” from birth.  But does that mean that closing up a PFO lowers your chances of getting migraines with aura? Some recent studies explain more about the connection between migraines and PFO.


What is a patent foramen ovale (PFO)?

Simply put, a patent foramen ovale is a small flap between the right and left atriums of your heart.  All people have this hole in the heart as infants in the fetus, and for most people, this flap closes up after birth.  However, for 25% of all people, this is not the case, and the hole becomes a PFO tunnel that sometimes allows blood to pass through the heart without receiving oxygen from the lungs, resulting in insufficient levels of oxygen throughout your body.

Additionally, blood clots may pass through the PFO channel, causing stroke.

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How is PFO diagnosed?

In order to diagnose PFO, your doctor might order an echocardiogram, or cardiac ECHO, which is a moving picture of the heart created by sound waves. This gives your doctor a clear and detailed view of your heart.

Does PFO cause migraines?

There have been some studies connecting PFO with migraine headaches, but scientists are hesitant to conclude any causative relationship, rather just a high correlation.  However, many theorize that reduced oxygen to the brain caused by PFO might contribute to migraine attacks.

Here are some facts linking migraine headaches with PFO:

  • People diagnosed with PFO are more likely than the general population to suffer from migraines with aura.
  • While about one quarter of all people in the general population has PFO, about 40%-60% of migraines with aura patients are likely to have PFO.
  • Migraine patients who don’t get auras aren’t more likely to have PFO than the general population.
  • Up to half of all PFO patients experience migraines with aura, while only 4% of the general population suffer migraine auras.
  • The larger the PFO, the more likely you are to suffer from migraines with aura.
  • In two studies on migraines with PFO, patients who suffered both migraines with aura and migraines without aura experienced fewer migraine symptoms following closure of the patent foramen ovale.
  • Closure of PFO did not have any effect on chronic headache sufferers who did not get migraines.
  • Increased risk for stroke is present in both PFO and migraines with aura frequency.

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Can PFO be treated?

If you have PFO without suffering from stroke or heart disease, than you doctor will not recommend any treatment.  However, if stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a factor, then there are a few possible treatments for PFO.

Blood thinners like aspirin, Plavix (clopidogrel), or Coumadin (warfarin) may be prescribed to prevent stroke.

A nonsurgical closure of PFO is another option. A percutaneous plug may be applied through hollow flexible tubes that are inserted through your veins and through to your heart.


Does percutaneous closure of PFO prevent migraines?

There have been some promising studies showing a decrease in migraine symptoms following percutaneous closure of PFO.

  • In one study, about 55%- 80% of migraine headache patients saw a significant improvement in migraine symptoms following PFO closure.
  • About 20% saw no change in migraine attack severity or frequency.
  • These results were true for migraines with aura and migraines without aura patients alike.
  • Because of certain flaws in the studies, scientists do not currently recommend screening for PFO based on history of migraines.
  • Further investigation is required before PFO closure can be considered a potential treatment for migraines with or without aura.

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Natural migraine and cardiovascular health

If you suffer from cardiovascular disease in addition to migraines, then following a healthy lifestyle is instrumental for promoting good health.

  • Exercise for at least 20 minutes each day.
  • Cut sodium and trans fats from your diet.
  • Keep your weight down.
  • Take plenty of vitamins, minerals, and essential herbs for heart health and migraine care.  Some good ones to try are all the B vitamins, including vitamin B12 and riboflavin.  Also, calcium, magnesium, coenzyme Q10, and butterbur supplements are healthful.

Please share

If you found this article helpful, or if you would like to add your opinion, please leave your comments below! Help spread the word about migraines and PFO by sharing this with friends and family, as well.

Learn more about migraine disorder:

Migraine Headaches and Brain Aneurysms- Learn the Difference

Are Migraines linked with Epileptic Seizures? It’s Genetics


Does the percutaneous closure of patent foramen ovale help the migraine sufferer?

Patent Foramen Ovale and Migraine- American Headache Society

Patent Foramen Ovale- Cleveland Clinic