Respiratory Distress Syndrome in Infants and Newborns: What You Should Know

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Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) is a breathing disorder that affects infants and newborns. Sometimes called "blue baby syndrome", RDS is most common in premature infants who are born approximately six weeks before their due date. Infants who experience respiratory distress lack sufficient amounts of surfactant, which is a liquid that coats the inside of the lungs. Babies usually don't start producing surfactant until a few weeks before they are born. Without enough surfactant, the lungs collapse and premature infants have to work hard to breathe. An infant with RDS might not be able to get enough oxygen to support the body’s organs.

Other names for RDS include:

• Hyaline membrane disease
• Neonatal respiratory distress syndrome
• Infant respiratory distress syndrome
• Surfactant deficiency
• Blue baby syndrome

Symptoms of RDS in Infants

Infants who have RDS display symptoms of respiratory distress at birth, or in the hours immediately following birth. Typical symptoms of respiratory distress, or blue baby syndrome, in infants include:

• Shallow, rapid breathing
• Noticeable pulling in of the chest between the ribs with each breath
• Grunting
• Flaring the nostrils

RDS Risk Factors

Certain factors may increase the risk that an infant will develop RDS. These factors include premature delivery, a stressful delivery, infection, and diabetes in the mother. An emergency cesarean delivery (C-section) can also increase the risk for respiratory distress in infants. To help ensure that your infant isn't born before his or her lungs have developed completely, take these steps:

• See your doctor regularly during your pregnancy
• Follow a healthy diet and avoid tobacco smoke, alcohol, and illegal drugs
• Monitor any ongoing medical conditions, and try to prevent infections

Treatment Options for RDS in Infants

For infants with respiratory distress, or blue baby syndrome, treatment begins as soon as RDS is recognized – sometimes even in the delivery room. Babies with RDS require care in a specialized intensive care unit for newborns usually called the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Physicians with special training and experience take care of severely ill newborns with respiratory distress problems.

Even the most premature infants will begin to make enough surfactant within a few days after birth. To survive RDS for the first few days, they need special help with their breathing. Treatments for respiratory distress in infants include:

• Surfactant replacement therapy
• Breathing support from mechanical ventilators
• Breathing support from Nasal Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (NCPAP)
• Extra oxygen

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This article was published on 2011/07/06