updated 12/26/2005 8:22:58 AM ET 2005-12-26T13:22:58

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will undergo a catheterization procedure in the next two or three weeks to repair a small hole in his heart discovered after he suffered a minor stroke, his doctors said Monday.

Dr. Haim Lotem, head of cardiology at Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital, said the hole, measuring 1 to 2 millimeters, is a minor birth defect found in 15 to 25 percent of the general population.

He said doctors plan to use a catheter allowing them to insert an "umbrella-like" device that seals the hole, located in the partition wall between the upper chambers of Sharon's heart. The procedure, guided by a small camera inserted through the esophagus, is routine, doctors said.

The hole was detected during testing following the Dec. 18 stroke. Doctors concluded the blood clot that caused the stroke got lodged in the hole, restricting the flow of blood to his brain.

Sharon is now having a blood-thinning medication injected twice a day until he undergoes the heart procedure.

Lotem said. "From our experience this is something that is only a minor birth defect. It doesn't need to be treated unless it causes problems," Lotem told reporters.

Although Sharon had difficulty speaking during the stroke, neurological testing found that he recalled everything from the night of his admission, said Dr. Tamir Ben-Hur, neurology chief at Hadassah.

Political concerns
Doctors said last week that Sharon suffered no lasting damage. He was released from the hospital two days after the stroke and already has resumed his full work load.

But the health scare has raised concerns about the 77-year-old leader's ability to work as he runs for a third term.

Doctors met with reporters Monday following public pressure that Sharon's health records be made public. Doctors have ordered the overweight prime minister, a self-admitted food lover, to go on diet.

Seeking to head off widespread speculation, Sharon's doctors said he weighed 260 pounds at the time of the stroke, and has already lost 5 pounds since then.

The catheterization procedure is known as "tzintur" in Hebrew, the same word used for angioplasty and angiogram.

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