for Patients Needed

The PFO Research Foundation recently met in Washington, DC for its first PFO Summit which promised a breakout session discussing PFO-Exercise-Guidelines. I attended the event and was hoping for both practical and selfish reasons to get some clarity on PFO-Exercise-Guidelines from some of the world’s top authorities on PFO. Instead, what I learned in the breakout session aimed at developing better PFO-Exercise-Guideline documents and educational materials for patients with PFO disorders was that we have a great deal more work to do to get better patient information out there on this controversial topic. I reference a recent post to my blog from Sept. 28, 2010, at to illustrate this point:

I just found out I have a PFO after a cerebellar stroke and ministroke in 27 months. I am 45. Should I be scared to do cardio, how much, how long, what should I avoid? Thanks Dave, I appreciate reading something from someone who seems a lot like me.

What should this person do? Known PFO, positive TIA/stroke and would like to continue exercising. Is cardio fine? Are weights OK? What about swimming? Climbing at altitude? Diving? We know these situations may present increased risk but where do you draw the line? What should the medical community suggest for reliable PFO-Exercise-Guidelines ?

Conflicting PFO-Exercise-Guidelines leads to confusion

Patients are turning to the web and patient forums for guidance clearly because they are not getting answers from their physicians or device manufacturers regarding PFO-Exercise-Guidelines. It’s simply not enough to tell patients “you can’t avoid the valsalva maneuver*” in daily life. No kidding doc, really? Is that the best advice we can give?

I learned “off the record” after running a marathon that perhaps (running long distances) was not the best decision for me “down the road” with a PFO occluder on board. This inside information was shared with me by a physician recently after my primary cardiac physician had cleared me and stated after more than one year post PFO closure “if my legs could carry me that far and my brain was crazy enough to talk my body into 26.2 miles then my heart would be fine”. OK, so, what is safe? What should PFO patients be doing for exercise 1-3 weeks after closure? How about after 6 weeks? What is really so special about 6 weeks? Why not 1 year (or more)? Should every occluder device have its own post-op protocol based upon the design? Perhaps. I personally had contacted the device manufacturer that built my heart plug several years ago after closure. I asked them,-NO-, I challenged them to get their patient education website completed and build a useful patient resource to assist patients that were in my shoes. That was well over 3 years ago. No site. Nothing. Still waiting…

Who’s to Blame??

Blame the FDA, insurance companies, poor clinical trial enrollment, whatever excuse we want to make, this is certainly not “best medical practice”, it is not acceptable and is in fact poor medical practice to not have clear PFO-Exercise-Guidelines. As a practicing physical therapist, if I sent someone home after a total hip replacement and didn’t remind them that there were clear post operative hip precautions that they should be aware of following their procedure (and based upon the technique and specific device they had implanted in their body), I could be fired and sued if they went home and blew out their hip because I didn’t educate them. That is simply part of my job! Why are heart plugs different? The last time I checked they were still being inserted directly in the center of our most vital organ.

Patients can’t continue to afford to be the pigs here. Patients are literally putting their “hearts on the line” and deserve so much better. I certainly hope this post serves as a challenge to industry and physicians to be more responsible and get our collective acts together to set things straight for patients. At least that is why I continue to write this blog, and yes, industry, this blog creation was and remains my direct response to your failure to step up and do something. Truth is, I write most of my content on lunch breaks and late on Friday evenings after my responsibilities as a dad and business owner are complete. (This is at least my excuse why I frequently have typos in my posts.) I write this blog because in some way it helps patients ask more educated questions and hopefully make their medical care takers stay on their toes, at least that’s what I’ve been told. I have no financial disclosures to report, don’t know any venture capitalists, and have no potential gain if PFO closure proves to be a slam dunk for stroke prevention or migraine relief. I just own the peace of mind that I did something. I urge all medical professionals and industry leaders involved with PFO to get together now under the direction of the PFO Research Foundation and draft clear PFO-Exercise-Guidelines. Now, I must get back to my patients, and then perhaps go out for a run later this evening when I get done here at work.

Or should I ? Who knows? I’d love for you to comment below if you do….

PFO-Exercise-Guidelines for PFO Patients Needed

By David P Dansereau,MS PT

Original article for

[Personal Sidebar] Until we have better closure on this topic I advise PFO patients (and anyone running or exercising solo) to wear a medical alert ID. I think Road ID is great because they have the option of linking your medical info online to your ID band.

Learn more about David's Blog and PFO-Exercise-Guidelines


• *Valsalva maneuver: A maneuver in which a person tries to exhale forcibly with a closed windpipe so that no air exits through the mouth or nose as, for example, in strenuous coughing, straining during a bowel movement, or lifting a heavy weight. The Valsalva maneuver impedes the return of venous blood to the heart.

(PFO- Patent-foramen ovale)

• Patent foramen ovale (PFO) is a small opening in the wall of the heart that separates the two upper chambers or atria. It is due to a persistence of the fetal circulation where a flap-like opening does not close as it normally should after birth. It is very common to have a PFO and is found in approximately 20% of the adult population. This flap-like valve enables shunting (abnormal mixture of blood between the right and left sides of the heart), which is often dynamic and of variable degree.-source: PFO Research Foundation

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