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Cardiologist Explains Letang's Condition

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Kris Letang's stroke is thought to be related to a hole in his heart.

This was discovered on tests after he became dizzy and nauseous last week.

The hole is called a patent foramen ovale, or PFO.

When a young person has a stroke, a PFO is something doctors look for, because the usual causes aren't the typical reason.

"Many times, younger people who have strokes really have no good reason to have a stroke, because they haven't had the high blood pressure, the high cholesterol for very long," says Dr. Jeffrey Liu, a cardiologist at St. Clair Hospital.

We are all born with a patent, or open, foramen ovale, where these flaps of tissue are between the upper chambers of the heart. In most people, this closes up at birth. But for one in four, this doesn't happen.

The flap can open with straining, coughing or sneezing. It's thought the clots that come into or form on the input side of the heart bypass the lungs and go through this hole to the output side of the heart. The clots can then travel to other parts of the body; for instance, the brain.

But just having this doesn't mean you'll have a stroke.

"A lot of people have PFOs and not everyone has a stroke," Dr. Liu continues.

People found to have this are treated with blood thinners. The standard medicine requires blood work every few days.

Another question is how long to treat with a blood thinner? For most people with this, it's forever. For a professional athlete, though, the bleeding risk would be an issue.

If people have recurrent strokes, or can't take blood thinners, sometimes doctors can do a procedure to close the hole.

Penguins: Letang Had Stroke, Will Miss 6 Weeks (2/7/14)
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