Undiagnosed heart defect may cause stroke - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Undiagnosed heart defect may cause stroke

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July 8, 2003

Albany - Nearly a third of all adults have an undiagnosed heart defect that may cause a stroke. And, you likely don't even know you have this defect. A Patent Foramen Ovale, or PFO, is a small opening in the heart that usually closes at birth. But, about 30% of adults still have a PFO without knowing it. The hole allows blood clots that might form in the legs to move to the left side of heart and up to the brain. The clots can cause a potentially deadly stroke.

"Autopsy results show a relatively high percentage of stroke patient had a PFO," said Cardiologist Dr. Steven Wolinsky. "But, most people live a healthy life without any problems from the often undetected heart defect." An echocardiogram can detect a PFO. Doctors use blood thinners to lower your chance of developing a blood clot. Surgery is a last step approach to repair larger PFO's.

Blood clots often form in the legs after long periods of inactivity, such as a lengthy plane or car trip. Dr. Wolinsky gives a few tips to stopping a blood clot.

First, start taking blood-thinning aspirin 3 days before the trip. Stay well hydrated and avoid caffeine and alcohol. Move around periodically - walk in the isle of the plane. And while seated, flex your ankles and massage your legs. If you travel often, you may want to talk to your doctor about getting tested for a PFO. But, Dr. Wolinsky stresses there is no proof that PFOs lead to strokes.

Posted at 5:45PM by kathryn.murchison@walb.com