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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Respiratory Distress Syndrome?

Signs and symptoms of respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) usually occur at birth or within the first few hours that follow. They include:

  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Sharp pulling in of the chest below and between the ribs with each breath
  • Grunting sounds
  • Flaring of the nostrils

The infant also may have pauses in breathing that last for a few seconds. This condition is called apnea (AP-ne-ah).

Respiratory Distress Syndrome Complications

Depending on the severity of an infant's RDS, he or she may develop other medical problems.

Lung Complications

Lung complications may include a collapsed lung (atelectasis), leakage of air from the lung into the chest cavity (pneumothorax), and bleeding in the lung (hemorrhage).

Some of the life-saving treatments used for RDS may cause bronchopulmonary dysplasia, another breathing disorder.

Blood and Blood Vessel Complications

Infants who have RDS may develop sepsis, an infection of the bloodstream. This infection can be life threatening.

Lack of oxygen may prevent a fetal blood vessel called the ductus arteriosus from closing after birth as it should. This condition is called patent ductus arteriosus, or PDA.

The ductus arteriosus connects a lung artery to a heart artery. If it remains open, it can strain the heart and increase blood pressure in the lung arteries.

Other Complications

Complications of RDS also may include blindness and other eye problems and a bowel disease called necrotizing enterocolitis (EN-ter-o-ko-LI-tis). Infants who have severe RDS can develop kidney failure.

Some infants who have RDS develop bleeding in the brain. This bleeding can delay mental development. It also can cause mental retardation or cerebral palsy.

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Last Updated: January 24, 2012