Respiratory Distress Syndrome and Birth InjuriesRespiratory distress syndrome (RDS) is a common breathing disorder birth injury. Prenatal doctors and birth doctors need to monitor parents and newborns for this condition. Failure to properly diagnose and treat RDS may constitute medical malpractice. Prenatal doctors should work to try to prevent premature births through prenatal care and monitoring.

RDS often occurs in babies who are born early – especially in newborns who are born within 28 weeks of pregnancy. RDS can also affect full-term babies. Premature newborns are more likely to suffer RDS, according to the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, due to a lack of “surfactant,” which is “a foamy substance that keeps the lungs fully expanded so that newborns can breathe in air once they are born.”

A fetus’s lungs should start making surfactant during the third trimester of pregnancy, after 26 weeks. The fetus should continue making surfactant through labor and delivery. “Surfactant coats the insides of the air sacs, or alveoli, in the lungs” which helps keeps the lungs open so the baby can breathe after birth.

If a newborn doesn’t have enough surfactant, the newborn’s lungs can collapse making it difficult to get the oxygen they need to support the body’s organs. Signs of RDS usually show themselves within a few hours of birth. Failure to get enough oxygen can cause brain damage and other organ damage – if not treated promptly and competently. Failure to properly and timely treat RDS can also cause bronchopulmonary dysplasia or BPD. Other complications include “chronic breathing problems, impaired vision; and movement, learning, or behavior problems.”

In some cases, RDS can be the result of a genetic defect or malformation.

What are the signs and symptoms of RDS?

According to the NIH, doctors should look for the following conditions:

  • Grunting sounds
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Sharp pulling inward of the muscles between the ribs when breathing
  • Widening of the nostrils, or flaring, with each breath

The newborn may also have apnea – a condition where breathing pauses for a few second.

What tests are used to diagnose RDS?

  • Chest X-rays. These can help show if a lung is collapsed requiring immediate treatment.
  • Blood tests. These tests check the amount of oxygen in the blood. They can also detect whether an infection is causing the breathing problems.
  • Echocardiography (echo). This test is used to rule out heart defects.

What are the treatments for RDS?

Birth delivery doctors should begin looking for and treating RDS as soon as the baby is born. There are a variety of delivery room treatments and neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) treatments including:

  • Surfactant replacement therapy
  • Breathing assistance from a ventilator or NCPAP machine (nasal continuous positive airway pressure)
  • Around the clock monitoring such as checking fluid buildup, using sensors to check the amount of oxygen (along with checking the newborn’s heart-rate, blood pressure, breathing, and temperature), and making sure the baby has enough nutrition.
  • Other supportive treatments until the newborn can produce enough surfactant on his/her own
  • Follow-up care including:
    • Special hearing and eye exams
    • Speech or physical therapy
    • Specialty care for other medical problems caused by premature birth

Complications from RDS can include:

  • Delayed growth during the first two years
  • Lung problems
  • A higher risk for infections
  • The need for further oxygen therapy and breathing support
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Learning difficulties
  • Other health problems

Parents should immediately call their doctor if their newborn has signs of a respiratory infection.

At Bailey & Greer, PLLC, our Memphis birth injury lawyers work with respected prenatal care physicians and delivery room physicians. These doctors review what steps your doctors should have taken to avoid RDS. We also work with these doctors to help document the difficulties your child will have in life and the medical costs to treat, stabilize, and work through those challenges. If your newborn has RDS, you may have a medical malpractice claim against physicians and your hospital. Please call our Memphis and Jackson lawyers at 901-475-7434 or use our contact form to schedule a consultation. We handled birth injury cases on a contingency fee basis.