Measurement of ionized magnesium (IMg) provides an accurate assessment of the free form of Mg, which is the physiologically active form and is most reflective of the biologically active and not easily measurable intracellular Mg fraction. Plasma levels of IMg were measured by ion-selective electrode method in premature newborns with respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), and relationships and correlations between IMg levels and various demographic, prognostic and laboratory characteristics were investigated by comparing the premature newborns with (study group; n = 19) and without RDS (control group; n = 20) in the present study. The values of the postnatal arterial pH and base excess and plasma IMg levels were significantly different between the study and control groups, and the number of newborns with any morbidity was significantly higher in the study group. Within the study group there were significant negative correlations between the plasma IMg levels and the values of the umbilical cord arterial pH (r = -0.621, p = 0.005) and base excess (r = -0.746, p = 0.001), and the value of the postnatal arterial base excess (r = -0.585, p = 0.008). The newborns who died later had higher plasma IMg levels than those who survived (0.89 +/- 0.45 vs. 0.63 +/- 0.24 mmol/l, p = 0.026). These findings suggest that increase of plasma IMg may be due to extracellular movement of Mg, which is a principally intracellular ion, as a result of acidosis, hypoxia and probable cellular injury during the early course of RDS. The exact pathophysiological mechanism responsible for IMg increase, and whether determination of plasma IMg level, including umbilical cord blood IMg measurement, can be used as an early or predictive indicator of RDS in the diagnosis remain to be determined in further large-scale studies. Copyright (C) 2004 S. Karger AG, Basel.