Because many people who have a PFO have no symptoms, it’s usually not diagnosed unless a doctor is conducting tests for a different problem, such as a previous stroke or atrial fibrillation (Afib). In fact, a PFO can be diagnosed only through a specific type of medical test known as an echocardiogram, a noninvasive test that uses sound to create a moving picture of the heart. This test is also known as an echo, Doppler, bubble test or bubble study, or heart ultrasound.
Types of Echocardiography
There are three types of echocardiography:
- Transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE) – A TTE takes images within the body from the skin’s surface without devices entering the body. This is the most common type of echocardiogram performed, but it may be insufficient to diagnose PFO. If treatment (closure) of the PFO is being planned, other types of echocardiography are often needed, such as TEE and ICE.
- Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) – A TEE takes images from within the esophagus (food pipe). It can provide more detailed images than traditional echocardiography, but it’s a more invasive test.
- Intracardiac echocardiogram (ICE) – ICE involves taking images by introducing a catheter into the femoral vein at the groin and delivering the tip of the catheter into the right atrium of the heart. ICE can also provide more detailed images than traditional echocardiography, but it’s a more invasive test.