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Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Respiratory distress syndrome

Definition

Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) of the newborn, also known as infant RDS, is an acute lung disease present at birth, which usually affects premature babies. Layers of tissue called hyaline membranes keep the oxygen that is breathed in from passing into the blood. The lungs are said to be airless. Without treatment, the infant will die within a few days after birth, but if oxygen can be provided, and the infant receives modern treatment in a neonatal intensive care unit, complete recovery with no after-effects can be expected.

Description

If a newborn infant is to breathe properly, the small air sacs (alveoli) at the ends of the breathing tubes must remain open so that oxygen in the air can get into the tiny blood vessels that surround the alveoli. Normally, in the last months of pregnancy, cells in the alveoli produce a substance called surfactant, which keep the surface tension inside the alveoli low so that the sacs can expand at the moment of birth, and the infant can breathe normally. Surfactant is produced starting at about 34 weeks of pregnancy and, by the time the fetal lungs mature at 37 weeks, a normal amount is present.

If an infant is born prematurely, enough surfactant might not have formed in the alveoli causing the lungs to collapse and making it very difficult for the baby to get enough air (and the oxygen it contains). Sometimes a layer of fibrous tissue called a hyaline membrane forms in the air sacs, making it even harder for oxygen to get through to the blood vessels. RDS in newborn infants used to be called hyaline membrane disease.

Demographics

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, in 2003, approximately 40,000 infants and 150,000 adults were reported to have RDS. Translated, these figures means RDS affected about one person in 6,800.

Causes and symptoms

RDS nearly always occurs in premature infants, and the more premature the birth, the greater is the chance that RDS will develop. RDS also is seen in some infants whose mothers are diabetic. Paradoxically, RDS is less likely in the presence of certain states or conditions which themselves are harmful: abnormally slow growth of the fetus; high blood pressure, a condition called preeclampsia in the mother; and early rupture of the birth membranes.

Labored breathing (the respiratory distress of RDS) may begin as soon as the infant is born, or within a few hours. Breathing becomes very rapid, the nostrils flare, and the infant grunts with each breath. The ribs, which are very flexible in young infants, move inwards each time a breath is taken. Before long the muscles that move the ribs and diaphragm, so that air is drawn into the lungs, become fatigued. When the oxygen level in the blood drops severely the infant's skin turns bluish in color. Tiny, very premature infants may not even have signs of trouble breathing. Their lungs may be so stiff that they cannot even start breathing when born.

There are two major complications of RDS. One is called pneumothorax, which means "air in the chest." When the infant itself or a breathing machine applies pressure on the lungs in an attempt to expand them, a lung may rupture, causing air to leak into the chest cavity. This air causes the lung to collapse further, making breathing even harder and interfering with blood flow in the lung arteries. The blood pressure can drop suddenly, cutting the blood supply to the brain. The other complication is called intraventricular hemorrhage; this is bleeding into the cavities (ventricles) of the brain, which may be fatal.

When to call the doctor

A doctor attending a birth should recognize respiratory distress and immediately begin appropriate treatment. A doctor should be called if a baby delivered outside of a hospital setting is observed to have any difficulty in breathing or whose skin becomes blue in color (cyanotic).

Diagnosis

When a premature infant has obvious trouble breathing at birth or within a few hours of birth, RDS is an obvious possibility. If premature birth is expected, or there is some condition that calls for delivery as soon as possible, the amount of surfactant in the amniotic fluid will indicate how well the lungs have matured. If little surfactant is found in an amniotic fluid sample taken by placing a needle in the uterus (amniocentesis ), there is a definite risk of RDS. Often this test is done at regular intervals so that the infant can be delivered as soon as the lungs are mature. If the membranes have ruptured, surfactant can easily be measured in a sample of vaginal fluid.

The other major diagnostic test is a chest x ray. Collapsed lung tissue has a typical appearance, and the more lung tissue is collapsed, the more severe the RDS. An x ray also can demonstrate pneumothorax, if this complication has occurred. The level of oxygen in the blood can be measured by taking a blood sample from an artery, or, more easily, using a device called an oximeter, which is clipped to an earlobe. Pneumothorax may have occurred if the infant suddenly becomes worse while on ventilation; x rays can help make the diagnosis.

Treatment

If only a mild degree of RDS is present at birth, placing the infant in an oxygen hood may be enough. It is important to guard against too much oxygen, as this may damage the retina and cause loss of vision. Using an oximeter to keep track of the blood oxygen level, repeated artery punctures or heel sticks can be avoided. In more severe cases a drug very like natural surfactant (Exosurf Neonatal or Survanta) can be dripped into the lungs through a fine tube (endotracheal tube) placed in the infant's windpipe (trachea). Typically, the infant will be able to breathe more easily within a few days at the most, and complications such as lung rupture are less likely to occur. The drug is continued until the infant starts producing its own surfactant. There is a risk of bleeding into the lungs from surfactant treatment; about 10 percent of the smallest infants are affected.

Infants with severe RDS may require treatment with a ventilator, a machine that takes over the work of the lungs and delivers air under pressure. In tiny infants who do not breathe when born, ventilation through a tracheal tube is an emergency procedure. Assisted ventilation must be closely supervised, as too much pressure can cause further lung damage. A gentler way of assisting breathing, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), delivers an oxygen mixture through nasal prongs or a tube placed through the nose rather than an endotracheal tube. CPAP may be tried before resorting to a ventilator or after an infant placed on a ventilator begins to improve. Drugs that stimulate breathing may speed the recovery process.

Pneumothorax is an emergency condition that must be treated right away. Air may be removed from the chest using a needle and syringe. A tube then is inserted into the lung cavity, and suction applied.

Prognosis

If an infant born with RDS is not promptly treated, lack of an adequate oxygen supply will damage the body's organs and eventually cause them to stop functioning altogether. Death is the result. The central nervous system in particularmade up of the brain and spinal cordis very dependent on a steady oxygen supply and is one of the first organ systems to feel the effects of RDS. By contrast, if the infant's breathing is supported until the lungs mature and make their own surfactant, complete recovery within three to five days is the pattern.

KEY TERMS

Alveoli The tiny air sacs clustered at the ends of the bronchioles in the lungs in which oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange takes place.

Amniotic fluid The liquid in the amniotic sac that cushions the fetus and regulates temperature in the placental environment. Amniotic fluid also contains fetal cells.

Endotracheal tube A hollow tube that is inserted into the trachea (windpipe) through the nose or mouth. It is used to administer anesthesia, to deliver oxygen under pressure, or to deliver medications (e.g. surfactants).

Hyaline membrane A fibrous layer that settles in the alveoli in respiratory distress syndrome and prevents oxygen from escaping from inhaled air to the bloodstream.

Pneumothorax A collection of air or gas in the chest or pleural cavity that causes part or all of a lung to collapse.

Preeclampsia A condition that develops after the twentieth week of pregnancy and results in high blood pressure, fluid retention that doesn't go away, and large amounts of protein in the urine. Without treatment, it can progress to a dangerous condition called eclampsia, in which a woman goes into convulsions.

Steroid A class of drugs resembling normal body substances that often help control inflammation in the body tissues.

Surfactant A protective film secreted by the alveoli in the lungs that reduces the surface tension of lung fluids, allowing gas exchange and helping maintain the elasticity of lung tissue. Surfactant is normally produced in the fetal lungs in the last months of pregnancy, which helps the air sacs to open up at the time of birth so that the newborn infant can breathe freely. Premature infants may lack surfactant and are more susceptible to respiratory problems without it.

Ventilator A mechanical device that can take over the work of breathing for a patient whose lungs are injured or are starting to heal. Sometimes called a respirator.

If an air leak causes pneumothorax, immediate removal of air from the chest allows the lungs to re-expand. Bleeding into the brain is a very serious condition that worsens the outlook for an infant with RDS.

Prevention

The best way of preventing RDS is to delay delivery until the fetal lungs have matured and are producing enough surfactant, generally at about 37 weeks of pregnancy. If delivery cannot be delayed, the mother may be given a steroid hormone, similar to a natural substance produced in the body, which crosses the barrier of the placenta and helps the fetal lungs to produce surfactant. The steroid should be given at least 24 hours before the expected time of delivery. If the infant does develop RDS, the risk of bleeding into the brain will be much less if the mother has been given a dose of steroid.

If a very premature infant is born without symptoms of RDS, it may be wise to deliver surfactant to its lungs. This may prevent RDS or make it less severe if it does develop. An alternative is to wait until the first symptoms of RDS appear and then immediately give surfactant. Pneumothorax may be prevented by frequently checking the blood oxygen content and limiting oxygen treatment under pressure to the minimum needed.

Parental concerns

Parents should monitor their newborn infant's breathing status closely for the first week of life. Premature infants are of particular concern, although many may be hospitalized through the neonatal period. While a newborn is hospitalized, parents should try to maintain as much physical contact with the infant as is allowed by the hospital, and let the infant frequently hear the familiar voices of the parents, especially the mother, when physical contact is not recommended.

Resources

BOOKS

Beamis, John F., et al. Interventional Pulmonary Medicine. New York: Marcel Dekker, 2003.

Frankel, Larry R. "Respiratory Distress and Failure." In Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 17th ed. Edited by Richard E. Behrman et al. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2003, pp. 3012.

Hanley, Michael E., and Carolyn H. Welsh. Current Diagnosis & Treatment in Pulmonary Medicine. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.

PERIODICALS

Bandi, V. D., et al. "Acute lung injury and acute respiratory distress syndrome in pregnancy." Critical Care Clinics 20, no. 4 (2004): 577607.

Dicker, R. A., et al. "Acute respiratory distress syndrome criteria in trauma patients: why the definitions do not work." Journal of Trauma 57, no. 3 (2004): 5226.

Louis, J. M., et al. "Perinatal intervention and neonatal outcomes near the limit of viability." American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 191, no. 4 (2004): 1398402.

Verger, J. T., et al. "The pragmatics of feeding the pediatric patient with acute respiratory distress syndrome." Critical Care Nursing Clinics of North America 16, no. 3 (2004): 43143.

ORGANIZATIONS

American Academy of Emergency Medicine. 611 East Wells St., Milwaukee, WI 53202. Web site: <www.aaem.org/>.

American Academy of Family Physicians. 11400 Tomahawk Creek Parkway, Leawood, KS 662112672. Web site: <www.aafp.org/>.

American Academy of Pediatrics. 141 Northwest Point Boulevard, Elk Grove Village, IL 600071098. Web site: <www.aap.org/default.htm>.

American College of Emergency Physicians. PO Box 619911, Dallas, TX 752619911. Web site: <www.acep.org/>.

American Lung Association. 1740 Broadway, New York, NY 10019. Web site: <www.lungusa.org/diseases/lungtb.html>.

American Thoracic Society. 1740 Broadway, New York, NY 10019. Web site: <www.thoracic.org/>.

Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. 2221 Yonge St., Suite 601, Toronto, Ontario, M4S 2B4, Canada. Web site: <www.ccff.ca/home.cfm>.

Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. 6931 Arlington Road, Bethesda, MD 0814. Web site: <www.cff.org/>.

WEB SITES

"Infant Respiratory Distress Syndrome." Penn State Children's Hospital. Available online at <www.hmc.psu.edu/childrens/healthinfo/r/respiratorydistress.htm> (accessed December 23, 2004).

"Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) in infants." National Library of Medicine. Available online at <www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001563.htm> (accessed December 23, 2004).

Rothenhaus, Todd. "Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome." eMedicine, May 16, 2003. Available online at <www.emedicine.com/EMERG/topic15.htm> (accessed December 23, 2004).

Udobi, Kahdi, and Ed Childs. "Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome." American College of Family Physicians. Available online at <www.aafp.org/afp/20030115/315.html> (accessed December 23, 2004).

L. Fleming Fallon, Jr., MD, DrPH

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Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Definition

Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) of the newborn, also known as infant RDS, is an acute lung disease present at birth, which usually affects premature babies. Layers of tissue called hyaline membranes keep the oxygen that is breathed in from passing into the blood. The lungs are said to be "airless." Without treatment, the infant will die within a few days after birth, but if oxygen can be provided, and the infant receives modern treatment in a neonatal intensive care unit, complete recovery with no after-effects can be expected.

Description

If a newborn infant is to breathe properly, the small air sacs (alveoli) at the ends of the breathing tubes must remain open so that oxygen in the air can get into the tiny blood vessels that surround the alveoli. Normally, in the last months of pregnancy, cells in the alveoli produce a substance called surfactant, which keep the surface tension inside the alveoli low so that the sacs can expand at the moment of birth, and the infant can breathe normally. Surfactant is produced starting at about 34 weeks of pregnancy and, by the time the fetal lungs mature at 37 weeks, a normal amount is present.

If an infant is born prematurely, enough surfactant might not have formed in the alveoli causing the lungs to collapse and making it very difficult for the baby to get enough air (and the oxygen it contains). Sometimes a layer of fibrous tissue called a hyaline membrane forms in the air sacs, making it even harder for oxygen to get through to the blood vessels. RDS in newborn infants used to be called hyaline membrane disease.

Causes and symptoms

RDS nearly always occurs in premature infants, and the more premature the birth, the greater is the chance that RDS will develop. RDS also is seen in some infants whose mothers are diabetic. Paradoxically, RDS is less likely in the presence of certain states or conditions which themselves are harmful: abnormally slow growth of the fetus; high blood pressure, a condition called preeclampsia in the mother; and early rupture of the birth membranes.

Labored breathing (the "respiratory distress" of RDS) may begin as soon as the infant is born, or within a few hours. Breathing becomes very rapid, the nostrils flare, and the infant grunts with each breath. The ribs, which are very flexible in young infants, move inwards each time a breath is taken. Before long the muscles that move the ribs and diaphragm, so that air is drawn into the lungs, become fatigued. When the oxygen level in the blood drops severely the infant's skin turns bluish in color. Tiny, very premature infants may not even have signs of trouble breathing. Their lungs may be so stiff that they cannot even start breathing when born.

There are two major complications of RDS. One is called pneumothorax, which means "air in the chest." When the infant itself or a breathing machine applies pressure on the lungs in an attempt to expand them, a lung may rupture, causing air to leak into the chest cavity. This air causes the lung to collapse further, making breathing even harder and interfering with blood flow in the lung arteries. The blood pressure can drop suddenly, cutting the blood supply to the brain. The other complication is called intraventricular hemorrhage; this is bleeding into the cavities (ventricles) of the brain, which may be fatal.

Diagnosis

When a premature infant has obvious trouble breathing when born or within a few hours of birth, RDS is an obvious possibility. If premature birth is expected, or there is some condition that calls for delivery as soon as possible, the amount of surfactant in the amniotic fluid will indicate how well the lungs have matured. If little surfactant is found in an amniotic fluid sample taken by placing a needle in the uterus (amniocentesis ), there is a definite risk of RDS. Often this test is done at regular intervals so that the infant can be delivered as soon as the lungs are mature. If the membranes have ruptured, surfactant can easily be measured in a sample of vaginal fluid.

The other major diagnostic test is a chest x ray. Collapsed lung tissue has a typical appearance, and the more lung tissue is collapsed, the more severe the RDS. An x ray also can demonstrate pneumothorax (air or gas in the area around the lung), if this complication has occurred. The level of oxygen in the blood can be measured by taking a blood sample from an artery, or, more easily, using a device called an oximeter, which is clipped to an earlobe. Pneumothorax may have occurred if the infant suddenly becomes worse while on ventilation; x rays can help make the diagnosis.

Treatment

If only a mild degree of RDS is present at birth, placing the infant in an oxygen hood may be enough. It is important to guard against too much oxygen, as this may damage the retina and cause loss of vision. Using an oximeter to keep track of the blood oxygen level, repeated artery punctures or heel sticks can be avoided. In more severe cases a drug very like natural surfactant (Exosurf Neonatal or Survanta), can be dripped into the lungs through a fine tube (endotracheal tube) placed in the infant's windpipe (trachea). Typically the infant will be able to breathe more easily within a few days at the most, and complications such as lung rupture are less likely to occur. The drug is continued until the infant starts producing its own surfactant. There is a risk of bleeding into the lungs from surfactant treatment; about 10% of the smallest infants are affected.

Infants with severe RDS may require treatment with a ventilator, a machine that takes over the work of the lungs and delivers air under pressure. In tiny infants who do not breathe when born, ventilation through a tracheal tube is an emergency procedure. Assisted ventilation must be closely supervised, as too much pressure can cause further lung damage. A gentler way of assisting breathing, continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP, delivers an oxygen mixture through nasal prongs or a tube placed through the nose rather than an endotracheal tube. CPAP may be tried before resorting to a ventilator, or after an infant placed on a ventilator begins to improve. Drugs that stimulate breathing may speed the recovery process.

Pneumothorax is an emergency that must be treated right away. Air may be removed from the chest using a needle and syringe. A tube then is inserted into the lung cavity, and suction applied.

Prognosis

If an infant born with RDS is not promptly treated, lack of an adequate oxygen supply will damage the body's organs and eventually cause them to stop functioning altogether. Death is the result. The central nervous system in particularmade up of the brain and spinal cordis very dependent on a steady oxygen supply and is one of the first organ systems to feel the effects of RDS. On the other hand, if the infant's breathing is supported until the lungs mature and make their own surfactant, complete recovery within three to five days is the rule.

If an air leak causes pneumothorax, immediate removal of air from the chest will allow the lungs to re-expand. Bleeding into the brain is a very serious condition that worsens the outlook for an infant with RDS.

Prevention

The best way of preventing RDS is to delay delivery until the fetal lungs have matured and are producing enough surfactantgenerally at about 37 weeks of pregnancy. If delivery cannot be delayed, the mother may be given a steroid hormone, similar to a natural substance produced in the body, which crosses the barrier of the placenta and helps the fetal lungs to produce surfactant. The steroid should be given at least 24 hours before the expected time of delivery. If the infant does develop RDS, the risk of bleeding into the brain will be much less if the mother has been given a dose of steroid.

If a very premature infant is born without symptoms of RDS, it may be wise to deliver surfactant to its lungs. This may prevent RDS, or make it less severe if it does develop. An alternative is to wait until the first symptoms of RDS appear and then immediately give surfactant. Pneumothorax may be prevented by frequently checking the blood oxygen content, and limiting oxygen treatment under pressure to the minimum needed.

Resources

ORGANIZATIONS

American Lung Association. 1740 Broadway, New York, NY 10019. (800) 586-4872. http://www.lungusa.org.

National Respiratory Distress Syndrome Foundation. P.O. Box 723, Montgomeryville, PA 18936.

KEY TERMS

Alveoli The small air sacs located at the ends of the breathing tubes of the lung, where oxygen normally passes from inhaled air to blood vessels.

Amniotic fluid The fluid bathing the fetus, which may be sampled using a needle to determine whether the fetus is making enough surfactant.

Endotracheal tube A metal or plastic tube inserted in the windpipe which may be attached to a ventilator. It also may be used to deliver medications such as surfactant.

Hyaline membranes A fibrous layer that settles in the alveoli in RDS, and prevents oxygen from escaping from inhaled air to the bloodstream.

Pneumothorax Air in the chest, often a result of the lung rupturing when oxygen is delivered under too high a pressure.

Preeclampsia A disease of pregnancy in which the mother's blood pressure is elevated; associated with both maternal and fetal complications, and sometimes with fetal death.

Steroid A natural body substance that often is given to women before delivering a very premature infant to stimulate the fetal lungs to produce surfactant, hopefully preventing RDS (or making it less severe).

Surfactant A material normally produced in the fetal lungs in the last months of pregnancy, which helps the air sacs to open up at the time of birth so that the newborn infant can breathe freely.

Ventilator A machine that can breathe for an infant having RDS until its lungs are producing enough surfactant and are able to function normally.

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infant respiratory distress syndrome

infant respiratory distress syndrome (IRDS) or hyaline membrane disease (hī´əlĬn, –līn´), respiratory distress syndrome of newborns, most common in infants born prematurely or by cesarean section or having a diabetic mother. The immature lungs of such infants cannot retain air; the air spaces empty completely and collapse after the first (and each succeeding) exhalation. Plasma leaks out of the lung tissue and coats the air spaces with a pink coating that is glassy, or hyaline, in appearance, hence the alternate name of the disease. Exhaustion, resulting from the extreme effort required to breathe, has been responsible for the death of many afflicted infants.

IRDS is caused by a lack, in the immature lung, of a surfactant agent; the substance, a mixture of lipids and proteins, contributes to the elasticity of lung tissue and stabilizes air passages so that the lung remains partly aerated after each exhalation. Intensive care, including supplemental oxygen and, in the case of severe symptoms, aid in breathing from a ventilator, can often bring infants through the first five or six days, after which most recover completely. An artificial surfactant may be introduced into the lungs if a newborn is at high risk for IRDS. If labor begins prematurely and cannot be halted and tests show that the fetus's lungs are immature, steroids administered to the mother a few days prior to labor may promote lung maturation.

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respiratory distress syndrome

respiratory distress syndrome (hyaline membrane disease) n. the condition of a newborn infant in which the lungs are imperfectly expanded. Breathing is rapid, laboured, and shallow. The condition is most common and serious among preterm infants. It is treated by careful nursing, intravenous fluids, and oxygen, with or without positive-pressure ventilation. Surfactant administered at birth has produced encouraging results. See also adult respiratory distress syndrome.

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Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Definition

Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) of the newborn, known as infant RDS, is an acute lung disease present at birth. RDS usually affects premature babies who weigh less than 5.5 lbs (2.5 kg). In these babies, the lack of a pulmonary substance called surfactant allows layers of tissue called hyaline membranes to develop in the lungs. This development prevents inhaled oxygen from passing into the blood vessels (capillaries) and thereby into the bloodstream. The lungs are said to be airless. Untreated, the infant will die within a few days after birth. RDS in newborns used to be called hyaline membrane disease.

Description

To breathe properly, the alveoli (small air sacs in the lungs) of a newborn infant must remain open so that oxygen in the air can enter the capillaries that surround the alveoli. Normally, during the last months of pregnancy, cells in the alveoli produce a substance called surfactant that maintains a low surface tension inside the alveoli. This allows the sacs to expand at the moment of birth, enabling the infant to breathe. Surfactant is produced starting at about 34 weeks of pregnancy and, by the time the fetal lungs mature at 37 weeks, a normal amount is present; after this point, it can be detected in the amniotic fluid.

When an infant is born prematurely without enough surfactant in the alveoli, the lungs may collapse, making it very difficult for the baby to get enough oxygen. Sometimes a layer of glassy, fibrous tissue called a hyaline membrane forms in the air sacs, making it even harder for oxygen to pass through the membrane to the capillaries.

Causes and symptoms

RDS nearly always occurs in premature infants, and the earlier the birth, the greater the chance that RDS will develop. The syndrome is also seen in some infants whose mothers have diabetes. Paradoxically, RDS is less likely to occur in the presence of conditions that are equally harmful: abnormally slow fetal growth, toxemia, and early rupture of the amniotic sac.

An infant with RDS may struggle to breathe as soon as it is born, or difficulty may develop within a few hours. Breathing becomes rapid and shallow, the nostrils flare, and the infant grunts with each breath. Muscles around the ribs and structures in the neck strain inward with each breath, showing the extreme effort that is being exerted. Before long, the intercostal muscles that move the ribs and diaphragm to draw air into the lungs become fatigued, making the breaths even more shallow. This shallow breathing diminishes the oxygen level in the blood so severely that the infant becomes cyanotic (the skin turns bluish). Tiny, very premature infants may not even have signs of trouble breathing. Their lungs may be so filled with hyaline membrane that when they are born they cannot even start breathing without assistance.

There are two major complications of RDS. One is pneumothorax, which means "air in the chest." When the infant itself or a ventilator breathing for the infant forces air into the lungs in an attempt to expand them, a lung may rupture, causing air to leak into the chest cavity. This air puts pressure on the lung, collapsing it and making breathing even more labored. Because pneumothorax interferes with blood flow in the pulmonary arteries, the infant's blood pressure may drop suddenly, diminishing blood supply to the brain. The other complication is intraventricular hemorrhage (bleeding into the ventricles of the brain), which can be fatal.

Diagnosis

When a premature infant has obvious trouble breathing at birth or within a few hours of birth, RDS is a possible diagnosis. If premature birth is expected, or there is some condition that calls for delivery prior to term, the amount of surfactant in the amniotic fluid indicates the extent to which the lungs have matured. If little surfactant is found in an amniotic fluid sample obtained via amniocentesis, then there is a definite risk of RDS. In some cases where delivery is essential to maternal or fetal survival, amniocentesis is performed at regular intervals so that the infant may be delivered as soon as the lungs are sufficiently mature. If the amniotic sac has ruptured, surfactant levels may be easily measured using a sample of vaginal fluid.

RDS can also be diagnosed by chest x ray. The syndrome has a recognizable radiologic image, and an x ray will also reveal pneumothorax (if this has occurred). This test may be ordered if the infant suddenly becomes worse while on ventilation.

Treatment

If only a mild degree of RDS is present at birth, then placing the infant in an oxygen hood may be sufficient to sustain them until they can breathe independently. Nurses must closely monitor infants receiving oxygen, however, to prevent excessive oxygen saturation, which can damage the retina. This condition, called retinitis of prematurity, causes blindness. The oxygen level in the blood may be tested by analyzing the levels of arterial gases present, or more easily, by using a device called a pulse oximeter, which is clipped to an earlobe. A laboratory technologist usually performs all necessary blood work.

In more severe cases, a drug that mimics the action of natural surfactant (Exosurf Neonatal or Survanta), may be dripped into the lungs through an endotracheal tube. Typically, the infant will be able to breathe more easily within a few days, and complications such as lung rupture are less likely to occur. The drug is continued until the infant starts producing its own surfactant. There is a risk of bleeding into the lungs from surfactant treatment; this affects about 10% of the smallest infants.

Infants with severe RDS may also be placed on a ventilator, a machine that delivers air under pressure through a tracheal tube to the lungs. This is performed as an emergency procedure for infants who do not breathe when born. Assisted ventilation must be closely supervised, as too much pressure can cause further lung damage, injure vocal cords, and increase the baby's risk of pulmonary infection. A gentler way to assist breathing is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which delivers an oxygen mixture through nasal prongs or a tube placed through the nose rather than an endotracheal tube. CPAP may be tried before resorting to a ventilator, or after an infant placed on a ventilator begins to improve. Drugs that stimulate breathing may speed the recovery process.

Pneumothorax, which is a possible complication of assisted ventilation, is a medical emergency requiring immediate intervention. Air may be removed from the chest using a needle and syringe. A tube is then inserted into the lung cavity, and suction applied.

Prognosis

If an infant born with RDS is not treated promptly, lack of an adequate oxygen supply will damage the body's organs. They will eventually stop functioning, after which death follows. The central nervous system in particular—made up of the brain and spinal cord—is very dependent on a steady oxygen supply and is one of the first organ systems to feel the effects of RDS. On the other hand, if the infant's breathing is supported immediately after birth until the lungs mature and make their own surfactant, complete recovery within three to five days is the rule.

Health care team roles

Premature infants with respiratory disorders are usually cared for in a neonatal intensive care unit by a neonatologist, certified neonatal intensive care nurse specialist, anesthesia provider (to maintain the airway), and respiratory therapist. Once the infant has recovered, a pediatrician, family practice physician, and a pediatric nurse practitioner may provide continuing medical care. Parents and siblings of critically ill newborns may require additional support from social workers, pastoral counselors, self-help support groups, or other mental health professionals.

KEY TERMS

Alveoli— The small air sacs located at the ends of the breathing tubes of the lung, where oxygen normally passes from inhaled air through the membranes into the capillaries and the bloodstream.

Amniocentesis— Analysis of amniotic fluid, extracted surgically by a hollow needle from the uterus of a pregnant woman, to determine the health or other characteristics of a fetus.

Amniotic fluid— The fluid cushioning the fetus inside the uterus, which may be sampled to determine whether the fetus is making enough surfactant to breathe independently.

Endotracheal tube— A metal or plastic tube inserted in the windpipe, which may be attached to a ventilator. It may also be used to deliver medications such as surfactant.

Hyaline membranes— A fibrous layer that develops in the alveoli of many premature infants, which prevents oxygen from passing through the alveolar sac into the capillaries.

Pneumothorax— Air in the chest outside the lung, which compresses the lung. It occurs as a result of the lung rupture, often caused by oxygen delivered under too high a pressure.

Steroids— Also known as corticosteroids or glucocorticoids, these naturally occurring substances are often given to women before they deliver a very premature infant to stimulate the fetal lungs to produce surfactant; this treatment is intended to prevent or minimize RDS.

Surfactant— A substance normally produced in fetal lungs after the 34th week of pregnancy that helps the air sacs to open up at the time of birth so that the infant can breathe independently.

Toxemia— A disease of pregnancy in which the mother's blood pressure is elevated; it is associated with both maternal and fetal complications, and sometimes with fetal death.

Ventilator— A machine that breathes for an infant with RDS until its lungs are producing enough surfactant and are able to function normally.

Prevention

The best way to prevent RDS is to delay delivery until fetal lungs have matured and are producing enough surfactant—generally at about 37 weeks of pregnancy. If delivery cannot be delayed, the mother may be given a steroid hormone, similar to a natural substance produced in the body, which crosses the placental barrier and helps the fetal lungs produce surfactant. The steroid should be given at least 24 hours before the expected delivery. If the infant does develop RDS, this treatment sharply reduces the risk of cerebral hemorrhage.

If a very premature infant is born without symptoms of RDS, it may be wise to deliver surfactant to its lungs anyway. This treatment may prevent RDS, or make it less severe if it does develop. An alternative is to wait until the first symptoms of RDS appear and then give surfactant immediately. Pneumothorax may be prevented by frequently monitoring blood oxygen content, and limiting oxygen treatment under pressure to the minimum.

Resources

BOOKS

Ahya, Shubada H., et al., eds. The Washington Manual of Medical Therapeutics, 30th edition. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2001, pp. 195-198.

Berkow, Robert, ed. Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories, 1997.

ORGANIZATIONS

American Academy of Pediatrics. 141 Northwest Point Boulevard, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007-1098. (847) 434-4000. 〈http://www.aap.org〉.

American Lung Association. 432 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016. (800) LUNG-USA. 〈http://www.lungusa.org〉.

National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners. 1101 Kings Highway, N., Suite 206, Cherry Hill, NJ 08034-1912. (856) 667-1773. 〈http://www.napnap.org〉.

National Respiratory Distress Syndrome Foundation. P.O. Box 723, Montgomeryville, PA 18936. 〈http://membrane.com/philanet/rds〉.

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Respiratory Distress Syndrome

RESPIRATORY DISTRESS SYNDROME

Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) is a disorder of lung function frequently affecting premature infants. Infants born at less than thirty-two weeks gestation are at the highest risk. RDS is caused by the inability of immature lungs to produce sufficient amounts of the chemical surfactant. Without surfactant, the small air sacks of the lungs collapse, resulting in poor exchange of oxygen and respiratory distress. RDS may be severe enough to cause respiratory failure and the need for support with a ventilator. Generally, RDS lasts three to five days; infants with mild cases recover quickly. Sicker infants may require long-term respiratory support and can develop chronic lung disease. RDS may be prevented and treated with the administration of surfactant into the lungs of at-risk or affected newborns. Preventing premature birth and treating pregnant women with steroid therapy prior to a premature birth decreases the chances of immature lungs and RDS. However, RDS remains a leading cause of death for premature infants.

Bibliography

Linden, Dana, Emma Paroli, and Mia Doron. Preemies: The Essential Guide for Parents of Premature Babies. New York: Pocket Books, 2000.

Spafford, P. S. "Use of Natural Surfactants to Prevent and Treat Respiratory Distress Syndrome." Seminars in Perinatology 17, no. 4 (1993):285-294.

Taeusch, H William, and Roberta Ballard. Avery's Diseases of the Newborn. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1998.

Diane D.Marshall

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Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Respiratory distress syndrome

Definition

Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) of the newborn, known as infant RDS, is an acute lung disease present at birth. RDS usually affects premature babies who weigh less than 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg). In these babies, the lack of a pulmonary substance called surfactant allows layers of tissue called hyaline membranes to develop in the lungs . This development prevents the oxygen that is inhaled from passing into the blood vessels (capillaries) and thereby into the bloodstream. The lungs are said to be airless. Untreated, the infant will die within a few days after birth. RDS in newborns used to be called hyaline membrane disease.

Description

To breathe properly, the alveoli (small air sacs in the lungs) of a newborn infant must remain open so that oxygen in the air can enter the capillaries that surround the alveoli. Normally, during the last months of pregnancy , cells in the alveoli produce a substance called surfactant that maintains a low surface tension inside the alveoli. This allows the sacs to expand at the moment of birth, enabling the infant to breathe. Surfactant is produced starting at about 34 weeks of pregnancy and, by the time the fetal lungs mature at 37 weeks, a normal amount is present; after this point, it can be detected in the amniotic fluid.

When an infant is born prematurely without enough surfactant in the alveoli, the lungs may collapse, making it very difficult for the baby to get enough oxygen. Sometimes a layer of glassy, fibrous tissue called a hyaline membrane forms in the air sacs, making it even harder for oxygen to pass through the membrane to the capillaries.

Causes and symptoms

RDS nearly always occurs in premature infants , and the earlier the birth, the greater the chance that RDS will develop. The syndrome is also seen in some infants whose mothers have diabetes. Paradoxically, RDS is less likely to occur in the presence of conditions that are equally harmful: abnormally slow fetal growth, toxemia, and early rupture of the amniotic sac.

An infant with RDS may struggle to breathe as soon as it is born, or difficulty may develop within a few hours. Breathing becomes rapid and shallow, the nostrils flare, and the infant grunts with each breath. Muscles around the ribs and structures in the neck strain inward with each breath, showing the extreme effort that is being exerted. Before long, the intercostal muscles that move the ribs and diaphragm to draw air into the lungs become fatigued, making the breaths even more shallow. This shallow breathing diminishes the oxygen level in the blood so severely that the infant becomes cyanotic (the skin turns bluish). Tiny, very premature infants may not even have signs of trouble breathing. Their lungs may be so filled with hyaline membrane that when they are born they cannot even start breathing without assistance.

There are two major complications of RDS. One is pneumothorax, which means "air in the chest." When the infant itself or a ventilator breathing for the infant forces air into the lungs in an attempt to expand them, a lung may rupture, causing air to leak into the chest cavity. This air puts pressure on the lung, collapsing it and making breathing even more labored. Because pneumothorax interferes with blood flow in the pulmonary arteries, the infant's blood pressure may drop suddenly, diminishing blood supply to the brain . The other complication is intraventricular hemorrhage (bleeding into the ventricles of the brain), which can be fatal.

Diagnosis

When a premature infant has obvious trouble breathing at birth or within a few hours of birth, RDS is a possible diagnosis. If premature birth is expected, or there is some condition that calls for delivery prior to term, the amount of surfactant in the amniotic fluid indicates the extent to which the lungs have matured. If little surfactant is found in an amniotic fluid sample obtained via amniocentesis , then there is a definite risk of RDS. In some cases where delivery is essential to maternal or fetal survival, amniocentesis is performed at regular intervals so that the infant may be delivered as soon as the lungs are sufficiently mature. If the amniotic sac has ruptured, surfactant levels may be easily measured using a sample of vaginal fluid.


KEY TERMS


Alveoli —The small air sacs located at the ends of the breathing tubes of the lung, where oxygen normally passes from inhaled air through the membranes into the capillaries and the bloodstream.

Amniocentesis —Analysis of amniotic fluid, extracted surgically by a hollow needle from the uterus of a pregnant woman, to determine the health or other characteristics of a fetus.

Amniotic fluid —The fluid cushioning the fetus inside the uterus, which may be sampled to determine whether the fetus is making enough surfactant to breathe independently.

Endotracheal tube —A metal or plastic tube inserted in the windpipe, which may be attached to a ventilator. It may also be used to deliver such medications as surfactant.

Hyaline membranes —A fibrous layer that develops in the alveoli of many premature infants, which prevents oxygen from passing through the alveolar sac into the capillaries.

Pneumothorax —Air in the chest outside the lung, which compresses the lung. It occurs as a result of the lung rupture, often caused by oxygen delivered under too high a pressure.

Steroids —Also known as corticosteroids or glucocorticoids, these naturally occurring substances are often given to women before they deliver a very premature infant to stimulate the fetal lungs to produce surfactant; this treatment is intended to prevent or minimize RDS.

Surfactant —A substance normally produced in fetal lungs after the 34th week of pregnancy that helps the air sacs to open up at the time of birth so that the infant can breathe independently.

Toxemia —A disease of pregnancy in which the mother's blood pressure is elevated; it is associated with both maternal and fetal complications, and sometimes with fetal death.

Ventilator —A machine that breathes for an infant with RDS until its lungs are producing enough surfactant and are able to function normally.


RDS can also be diagnosed by chest x ray . The syndrome has a recognizable radiologic image, and an x ray will also reveal pneumothorax (if this has occurred), as well. This test may be ordered if the infant suddenly becomes worse while on ventilation.

Treatment

If only a mild degree of RDS is present at birth, then placing the infant in an oxygen hood may be sufficient to sustain them until they can breathe independently. Nurses must closely monitor infants receiving oxygen, however, to prevent excessive oxygen saturation, which can damage the retina. This condition, called retinitis of prematurity, causes blindness. The oxygen level in the blood may be tested by analyzing the levels of arterial gases present, or more easily, by using a device called a pulse oximeter , which is clipped to an earlobe. A laboratory technologist usually performs all necessary blood work.

In more severe cases, a drug that mimics the action of natural surfactant (Exosurf Neonatal or Survanta), may be dripped into the lungs through an endotracheal tube. Typically, the infant will be able to breathe more easily within a few days, and such complications as lung rupture are less likely to occur. The drug is continued until the infant starts producing its own surfactant. There is a risk of bleeding into the lungs from surfactant treatment; this affects about 10% of the smallest infants.

Infants with severe RDS may also be placed on a ventilator, a machine that delivers air under pressure through a tracheal tube to the lungs. This is performed as an emergency procedure for infants who do not breathe when born. Assisted ventilation must be closely supervised, as too much pressure can cause further lung damage, injure vocal cords, and increase the baby's risk of pulmonary infection . A gentler way to assist breathing is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which delivers an oxygen mixture through nasal prongs or a tube placed through the nose rather than an endotracheal tube. CPAP may be tried before resorting to a ventilator, or after an infant placed on a ventilator begins to improve. Drugs that stimulate breathing may speed the recovery process.

Pneumothorax, which is a possible complication of assisted ventilation, is a medical emergency requiring immediate intervention. Air may be removed from the chest using a needle and syringe. A tube is then inserted into the lung cavity, and suction applied.

Prognosis

If an infant born with RDS is not treated promptly, lack of an adequate oxygen supply will damage the body's organs. They will eventually stop functioning, after which death follows. The central nervous system in particular—made up of the brain and spinal cord—is very dependent on a steady oxygen supply and is one of the first organ systems to feel the effects of RDS. On the other hand, if the infant's breathing is supported immediately after birth until the lungs mature and make their own surfactant, complete recovery within three to five days is the rule.

Health care team roles

Premature infants with respiratory disorders are usually cared for in a neonatal intensive care unit by a neonatologist, certified neonatal intensive care nurse specialist, anesthesia provider (to maintain the airway), and respiratory therapist. Once the infant has recovered, a pediatrician, family practice physician, and a pediatric nurse practitioner may provide continuing medical care. Parents and siblings of critically ill newborns may require additional support from social workers, pastoral counselors, self-help support groups, or other mental health professionals.

Prevention

The best way to prevent RDS is to delay delivery until fetal lungs have matured and are producing enough surfactant—generally at about 37 weeks of pregnancy. If delivery cannot be delayed, the mother may be given a steroid hormone, similar to a natural substance produced in the body, which crosses the placental barrier and helps the fetal lungs produce surfactant. The steroid should be given at least 24 hours before the expected delivery. If the infant does develop RDS, this treatment sharply reduces the risk of cerebral hemorrhage.

If a very premature infant is born without symptoms of RDS, it may be wise to deliver surfactant to its lungs anyway. This treatment may prevent RDS, or make it less severe if it does develop. An alternative is to wait until the first symptoms of RDS appear and then give surfactant immediately. Pneumothorax may be prevented by frequently monitoring blood oxygen content, and limiting oxygen treatment under pressure to the minimum.

Resources

BOOKS

Ahya, Shubada H., et al., eds. The Washington Manual of Medical Therapeutics, 30th edition. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins., 2001, pp. 195–198.

Berkow, Robert, ed. Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. Whitehouse Station, N.J.: Merck Research Laboratories, 1997.

ORGANIZATIONS

American Academy of Pediatrics. 141 Northwest Point Boulevard, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007-1098. (847) 434-4000. <http://www.aap.org>.

American Lung Association. 432 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016. (800) LUNG-USA. <http://www.lungusa.org>.

National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners. 1101 Kings Highway, N., Suite 206, Cherry Hill, NJ 08034-1912. (856) 667-1773. <http://www.napnap.org>.

National Respiratory Distress Syndrome Foundation. P.O. Box 723, Montgomeryville, PA 18936. <http://membrane.com/philanet/rds>.

Barbara Wexler

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"Respiratory Distress Syndrome." Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Respiratory Distress Syndrome." Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/respiratory-distress-syndrome-1

"Respiratory Distress Syndrome." Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health. . Retrieved September 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/respiratory-distress-syndrome-1

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Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

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The Chicago Manual of Style

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Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.