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What Causes Respiratory Distress Syndrome?

The main cause of respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) is a lack of surfactant in the lungs. Surfactant is a liquid that coats the inside of the lungs.

A fetus's lungs start making surfactant during the third trimester of pregnancy (weeks 26 through labor and delivery). The substance coats the insides of the air sacs in the lungs. This helps keep the lungs open so breathing can occur after birth.

Without enough surfactant, the lungs will likely collapse when the infant exhales (breathes out). The infant then has to work harder to breathe. He or she might not be able to get enough oxygen to support the body's organs.

Some full-term infants develop RDS because they have faulty genes that affect how their bodies make surfactant.

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Respiratory Distress Syndrome Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Respiratory Distress Syndrome, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.

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Visit Children and Clinical Studies to hear experts, parents, and children talk about their experiences with clinical research.


 
January 24, 2012 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.