- Pulmonary hypertension was associated with nonresponse to surfactant in six premature infants with respiratory distress syndrome. The diagnosis was suspected on the basis of a discrepancy between the X-ray findings and the severity of the clinical status as reflected by hypoxia despite maximal ventilatory support. The diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension was made by pre- and postductal oxygen saturation differences or by echodoppler cardiography, showing suprasystemic right ventricular pressures or right to left shunts through a patent foramen ovale or the ductus arteriosus. The response to surfactant was quantified by the arterial/alveolar (a/A) ratio difference before and 1 hr after therapy ("delta a/A ratio"); the delta a/A ratio was 0 +/- 0.01, which indicates a nonresponse. A single dose of 1 mg/kg tolazoline was administrated and the response assessed by a/A difference. A delta a/A ratio of 0.11 +/- 0.11 (range 0.02-0.32) represented a dramatic response and enabled oxygenation in these severely ill infants. No significant side effects were observed. We conclude that pulmonary hypertension may be an important and reversible condition in certain cases of respiratory distress syndrome and has to be considered in infants who do not respond to surfactant.