Previous studies evaluating the incidence of patent ductus arteriosus have not made a distinction between physiologic ductal patency and abnormally persistent ductus arteriosus. However, it has recently been shown that healthy premature infants without respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) undergo spontaneous closure of the ductus arteriosus in the first 4 days of life at times comparable to full-term infants. Thus, ductal patency within this time frame would appear to be physiologic. Although sick premature infants are well recognized to be at risk for ductal shunting, the purpose of this investigation was to evaluate systematically the actual impact that RDS has on duration of ductal shunting by assessing the timing of spontaneous functional closure. The presence of ductal shunting was evaluated using echocardiographic color flow Doppler techniques. Thirty-six premature infants (30 to 37 weeks gestational age) were evaluated. By the fourth day of life, only 4 of 36 (11.1%) of the infants continued to have evidence of ductal patency. The remainder of the infants underwent spontaneous functional closure of the ductus arteriosus at times comparable to healthy infants without RDS. For most infants greater than or equal to 30 weeks gestation, uncomplicated RDS does not alter the usual timing of functional ductal closure.