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Doctors Seek Fix To Hole In Heart That May Contribute To Stroke

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — To find the cause of some strokes, you need to take a close look at the heart.


common abnormality in the heart

may be a trigger of many strokes, andnow the search is on to find the best fix. Doing so may help in preventing stroke, which usually strike with little warning.

When Sion Harrington suffered a mild stroke in June, you might say it was a 'stroke' of good luck. Doctors had a hunch he might have a hole in his heart.

"I came in here and my vision's messed up, so why are we going down to get an echocardiogram on my heart," he wondered.

Doctors were right and it looks like the hole may have caused Harrington's stroke.

Researchers are just beginning to make the connection.

One in five Americans have an opening in the heart called a patent foramen ovale or PFO. The hole can allow blood clots to travel from the heart to the brain triggering a stroke.

Dr Ana Felix, a neurologist at University of North Carolina Hospitals, estimates half of the 750,000 people who suffer strokes each year have a hole in their heart.

"The real question is whether the hole in the heart is the reason they had their stroke," she said.

To find out, UNC and other hospitals have

launched a study

to find the best way to treat the holes.

The option doctors are most excited about is the closure implant.

The device is threaded through a catheter into the heart. Once in place, a small umbrella deploys sealing the hole.

Harrington was one of the first people to have the procedure.

"I believe in it 100 percent. I honestly do," he said.

If effective, the device could help prevent many strokes.

" It would make a big dent," Felix said.

Harrington hopes that is the case for his sake and everyone else's.

"I like breathing, I like life. I've got a family," he said.

If you know you have a hole in your heart, do not panic. A lot of people have PFOs and never have a stroke.

The concern is for younger patients, under age 50, who have already had a stroke. They are more likely to have a second more debilitating attack.

  • September 10, 2003:
  • Small Hole In Heart Could Heighten Stroke Risk