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BIOLOGY
Asked by Audrey

Is there ever a hole or passageway between the two atria of the heart? Why or why not?

During embryonic development of the heart, there is a hole in between the atria known as the foramen ovale. Why? Because during early development, the lungs aren’t fully developed - instead the fetus receives oxygenated blood from the placenta via the right atrium. This oxygenated blood needs to bypass the pulmonary circulation which is not ready to work yet. A hole between the atria (foramen ovale) allows this. As the lungs become developed, the foramen ovale shuts. The fetus now has its own functioning pulmonary and systemic circulation and so the hole is no longer needed. Congenital (“from birth”) defects include the inability of this hole to shut. This can be due to an array of reasons, however the consequence is the mixing of oxygenated blood in the left atrium, with deoxygenated blood from the right atrium. This can be fatal depending on how large a hole is still present and therefore how much blood is mixed. The resulting conditions are known as Patent Foramen Ovale and Atrial Septal Defect.

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Ali Rajani
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