Using a method employing low concentrations (3%) of nitrous oxide, we measured effective pulmonary capillary blood flow ([Unknown]pc eff) in 23 preterm infants, 26 light-for-date infants, and 15 infants who were both preterm and light-for-date.

All infants studied had no clinical or laboratory evidence of idiopathic respiratory distress syndrome (IRDS) and were studied before the age of 48 hours.

The mean [Unknown]pc eff of 175 ml/kg/min in preterm infants (a group at high risk of developing IRDS), although significantly less than the mean of 214 ml/kg/min found in light-for-date infants (a group with a low risk of developing IRDS), was similar to that reported in normal term infants. The mean result for preterm, light-for-date infants was 189 ml/kg/min.

No evidence was found that preterm infants were predisposed to IRDS as a consequence of preexisting pulmonary hypoperfusion.

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