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Respiratory distress syndrome

Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), also called hyaline membrane disease, is the most common respiratory disorder of premature infants and affects, with different degrees of severity, many babies born before 28 weeks gestation. Babies with RDS experience difficulty in breathing due to the immaturity of the lung development and to insufficient production of surfactant.

Surfactant is a lubricating liquid lining the lungs, made of lipids (fats) and proteins that work together to enable the lungs to expand easily. If there is a lack of surfactant the baby will have difficulty breathing and therefore sufficient oxygen may not circulate properly in the body.

The resulting clinical signs and symptoms of RDS are:

  • Blue-coloured skin caused by hypoxia (inadequate oxygen supply to the body tissues)
  • Rapid breathing
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Grunting noise when breathing out
  • Nasal flaring (nostrils seem to widen)
  • Straining of chest and neck muscles by the effort of breathing

Predisposing factors for RDS
In addition to gestational age, the major predisposing factors are:

  • Gender: boys more than girls
  • Race: Caucasian
  • Caesarean delivery
  • Asphyxia
  • Maternal diabetes
  • Multiple birth
  • Hypothermia
  • Infection.

Treatment
RDS is treated by general supportive therapy, such as:

A number of factors can reduce the incidence of RDS in particular many mothers who go into early labour are given corticosteroids, that increase the baby's surfactant levels by stimulating production.

NICU - Neonatal Intensive Care Unit FAQ Abbreviations Suggested Reading
Last updated: 27/05/2015
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