Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) is a lung disorder in newborns that causes problems breathing. It needs to be treated right away to avoid severe health problems.
RDS happens when an infant's lungs have not developed enough. Immature lungs lack a fluid called surfactant that helps the lungs open wide and take in air. The lungs do not open well without it. This makes it hard to breathe.
Respiratory System of an Infant
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RDS is more common in:
Other things that may raise the risk are:
Problems usually happen right after birth or within a few hours. They may be:
The doctor will ask about the mother's health history and pregnancy. A physical exam will be done on the baby. This is often enough to suspect RDS.
The diagnosis may be confirmed with a chest x-ray. Blood tests may also be done to check the baby's oxygen levels.
The goal of treatment is to support and promote breathing. This can be done with:
The risk of RDS may be lowered with regular prenatal care. This may help lower the chance of having a baby that is born too early.
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
Kids Health—Nemours Foundation
About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
Respiratory distress syndrome. The Merck Manual Professional Edition website. Available at:
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Updated August 13, 2019. Accessed January 10, 2020.
Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) of the newborn. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/respiratory-distress-syndrome-rds-of-the-newborn-23. Updated August 13, 2019. Accessed January 10, 2020.
Sweet DG, Carnielli V, et al. European consensus guidelines on the management of neonatal respiratory distress syndrome in preterm infants - 2013 update. Neonatology. 2013;103(4):353-368.
Last reviewed September 2019 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Kari Kassir, MD
Last Updated: 9/8/2020