The aim of the present study was to investigate the efficacy of L-carnitine therapy on the occurrence and prognosis of respiratory distress syndrome (RDS). A single blind, randomized controlled trial study was conducted on 130 infants with gestational ages of 28-36 weeks. Infants were assigned to experimental groups (groups 1 and 2) and control groups (groups 3 and 4). Groups 1 and 3 consisted of infants with RDS, and groups 2 and 4 groups were composed of infants without RDS. The experimental groups were treated with carnitine. No statistically significant differences in serum carnitine levels were detected between the study and the control groups on day 1 of treatment (P=0.06). However, on day 7 of treatment, serum carnitine levels in the experimental groups were significantly increased (P=0.02), as compared with the control groups. The surfactant requirement value, which is how many rounds of surfactant therapy were required, was 1.56+/-0.97 in group 1, and 2.12+/-0.99 in group 3 (P<0.001). The mean duration of mechanical ventilation required was 3.04+/-3.60 days in group 1, and 4.73+/-5.63 days in group 3 (P<0.001). The present results indicate that carnitine supplementation in premature infants with RDS may help to increase carnitine levels, thus decreasing the duration of mechanical ventilation and surfactant requirement.