Sandifer Syndrome In Babies: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Sandifer syndrome in babies is a rare gastrointestinal disorder associated with gastroesophageal reflux (GER) and other symptoms such as abnormal head position or abnormal movements of the head, neck, and upper part of the trunk (1). These unusual neck movements may be misdiagnosed as an epileptic seizureiXHaving two or more seizures of unknown origin. . However, it is not a neurological condition, and it usually self-resolves as the baby grows in age. Read the post to know more about the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of Sandifer syndrome in babies.

How Common Is Sandifer Syndrome?

According to the US National Institutes of Health, the exact prevalence of Sandifer syndrome is unknown, but the condition is considered rare (2). The onset of the syndrome usually occurs during infancy or early childhood. Sandifer or Sandifer’s syndrome has a good prognosis despite it being an uncommon ailment.

What Are The Symptoms Of Sandifer Syndrome?

Torticollis and dystonia are the main characteristic symptoms of Sandifer’s syndrome in babies. Torticollis is characterized by a sideward tilt of the head with a chin rotation toward the opposite side of the tilt (3).

Dystonia is characterized by repetitive and patterned muscle contractions that cause twisting of the torso and abnormal posturing (4).

The following are other commonly seen symptoms in babies with Sandifer’s syndrome. These symptoms usually exacerbate after feeding (2) (5) (6).

  • Nodding and rotation of the head
Nodding and rotation of the head indicate Sandifer syndrome in babies
  • Neck extension
  • Gurgling sounds
  • Writhing movement of limbs
  • Muscular weakness (hypotonia) or developmental delays
  • Arching of the spine
  • Upward deviation of eyes
  • Vomiting
  • Reduced appetite
  • Irritability
  • Anemia
  • Stomach ache
  • Vomiting blood
  • Symptoms that stop while sleeping
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In rare cases, it may also be present with esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus leading to pain and swallowing difficulties (dysphagia).

A baby can show bouts of symptoms. Each episode may last for one to three minutes and might occur up to ten times a day (2). Consult a doctor if your baby displays any of the above symptoms.

Angie shares her experience when doctors concluded that her baby’s seizure-like movements were due to Sandifer syndrome and not actual seizures. She says, “To us, it meant that Noah no longer was getting his brain hammered and damaged. It meant that many of the harmful episodes he was having were Sandifer’s episodes, so his brain might not be as bad off as we originally were thinking. It also means that the two original seizures we thought he had in his first month of life might have also been Sandifer’s episodes (i).”

Causes Of Sandifer Syndrome In Babies

Researchers have not been able to pinpoint the specific cause of Sandifer syndrome in babies. However, gastroesophageal reflux is often attributed as the cause of Sandifer’s syndrome (7). Acid reflux causes a lot of discomfort and pain, and the jerky movements occur as a response to the pain (8).

Gastroesophageal reflux happens due to problematic lower esophageal sphincter, which is a muscle that lies at the lower end of the esophagus (food pipe), and beginning of the stomach. In GER, the muscle of the sphincteriXRing-shaped muscles that tighten or relax an opening. relaxes more than usual, thus causing stomach acid and gastric juices to flow into the food pipe and towards the mouth (acid regurgitation) (9) (10). A study published in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition found that more than a quarter of infants aged 0-18 months experience daily symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

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How To Diagnose Sandifer Syndrome?

Doctor checks for a history of GER in babies

The symptoms of Sandifer syndrome often appear similar to epileptic convulsions, infantile spasms, or paroxysmal dystonia (2). Therefore, most doctors perform neurological assessments to rule out any such ailments.

The doctor also checks for a history of gastroesophageal reflux (GER). Esophageal endoscopy and pH monitoring might help detect the presence of gastric acid in the upper esophagus, but is rarely necessary (11).

Upper esophageal endoscopyiXA diagnostic test involving a thin tube containing a camera inserted inside the body from the mouth to look inside the body. is a principle method to evaluate the mucosa of the esophagus to check for complications of GER (7). Esophageal pH monitoring is done over a period of 24 hours to determine the quantity of acid reflux (7).

The doctor will recommend these procedures only if necessary since they might require overnight hospitalization. The presence of GER, along with torticollis and dystonia, points towards Sandifer’s syndrome.

Treatment Of Sandifer Syndrome In Babies

If the doctor suspects Sandifer’s syndrome, then they might recommend some dietary changes to stop the acid reflux. The following are the other various changes that might be suggested by your pediatrician to manage GER and Sandifer’s syndrome (12).

  • Avoid overfeeding the baby
  • Keep the baby upright for half an hour after feeding
  • Cow milk products should be avoided by breastfeeding mothers, only if cow milk allergy is suspected
  • Switch to extensively hydrolyzed protein or amino acid-based formula if an allergy is suspected
  • Add rice cereal to the formula as a thickening agent
  • In some cases, an anti-reflux (thickened) formula might be advised
  • Do not expose the baby to second-hand tobacco smoke
Avoid exposing the baby to second-hand tobacco smoke

If making these changes does not help, the doctor might recommend the following acidsuppression medications (13).

  • H2 receptor blockers like cimetidine, famotidine, nizatidine or ranitidine (13) (14)
  • Proton pump inhibitors like esomeprazole (15)
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Very rarely, when none of these works, the doctor might recommend surgical intervention. The procedure is known as Nissen fundoplication. In this procedure, a part of the upper stomach is wrapped around the lower part of the esophagus to create a tight nipple valve that stops the reflux (16).

The treatment plan should be decided by the baby’s pediatrician. Do not give any OTC medications without consulting the doctor.

Sandifer Syndrome in babies is a rare condition involving gastroesophageal reflux, sideward head tilt, and jerky movements in the upper parts of the body. Diagnosis is based on ruling out other neurological disorders that may cause muscle spasms. The condition is manageable, and babies may outgrow the disease with time. However, you may take steps to prevent acid reflux and look out for possible food allergies and intolerances. Consult your pediatrician if you suspect Sandifer’s syndrome in your baby, and avoid using over-the-counter medications to provide relief.

Key Pointers

  • Sandifer syndrome is a rare gastrointestinal condition that causes gastroesophageal reflux in infants.
  • Symptoms include dystonia, vomiting, neck extension, muscle weakness, stomach pain, and gurgling sounds.
  • To identify Sandifer syndrome, the doctor may perform an esophageal endoscopy, pH monitoring, and neurological testing.
  • To alleviate symptoms, avoid overfeeding, keep the baby upright after feeding, avoid cow milk products (if cow milk allergy is suspected), switch to a different formula, and add rice cereal to the formula.
  • If dietary adjustments are ineffective, the doctor may prescribe acid suppression drugs such as proton pump inhibitors or H2 receptor blockers.

Get to know about Sandifer Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder affecting infants. Discover its causes and treatments in this informative video!

Article written by Baby Plumbing

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