The human body is a complex organism, possessing different systems dedicated to various vital functions for our survival and which generally act in a coordinated and correct manner.

One of these systems is the digestive system, thanks to which we can incorporate nutrients necessary for survival. However, sometimes this and other body systems can present problems or alterations such as malformations or intolerances, or various diseases, injuries and disorders can come into action.

Sandifer syndrome is one of these disorders, which occurs during childhood and causes different symptoms , although it is not considered dangerous for the child.

Sandifer syndrome: description and symptoms

Sandifer syndrome is a disorder that is often categorized as paroxysmal motor, in which motor symptoms arise from alterations in the digestive system . It is a disease that appears in children and especially during the first years of life, although it can appear at any time between birth and adolescence, and the age of onset is often around eighteen months.

Children with Sandifer syndrome experience jerks and spasms lasting several minutes (usually one to three minutes) in areas such as the head, arms, or legs with varying degrees of hyperextension and rotation. They often cause torticollis, rigid postures and arching of the back. And in some cases, obstructive apnea also appears. These motor alterations may appear at different times of the day, but they tend to appear especially after ingestion and generally cease during sleep.

Another major symptom is the presence of esophagitis, or inflammation of the esophagus. They frequently present anemia caused by lack of iron, lack of appetite and dysphagia, vomiting and abdominal pain . Hypotonia, weakness and fatigue may also occur.

Causes of this disease

The etiology of Sandifer syndrome is considered to be in the digestive tract. It is generally associated with the presence of reflux during digestion, with food partially regurgitating as it passes from the stomach into the esophagus.

Another possible cause is when the infant has a hiatal hernia , in which part of the digestive tract protrudes through the diaphragm and becomes in the chest instead of the abdomen. This can cause pain in the child, and in turn cause the above-mentioned reflux.

It is speculated that in many cases the muscle spasms are the result of an attempt to decrease the level of pain caused by gastroesophageal reflux.

Despite the fact that the symptoms seem to be neurological, as a rule, the child presents neurotypical neuronal activity at the brain level, without any alterations being observed at the electroencephalogram level. Thus, Sandifer syndrome would not be caused by a brain or nerve problem, and seizure spasms (with which this disorder is often confused) are not treated.

Behavioral disorders

Although Sandifer syndrome does not imply the existence of behavioural disorders, it should be taken into account that depending on their duration and time of appearance, the pain derived from the problems that generate it can generate in the minor a certain fear conditioned by the fact of feeding. This can cause problems such as limited feeding or refusal to eat, although in the long run this fear can be extinguished as food is taken without pain.

Likewise, the presence of anaemia may cause inactivity and lack of motivation in the child , and sleep disorders that may range from insomnia to hypersomnia.


Sandifer’s syndrome is a disorder with a positive prognosis and a good level of recovery . However, early diagnosis is important to prevent possible problems and to seek treatment that eliminates or reduces the digestive system problem that causes it.

In this sense, it seeks to treat the problem that generates the syndrome. Usually a treatment for gastroesophageal reflux is established, in which pharmacologically it causes the level of stomach acidity to decrease. Also a surgical procedure may be required if it is due to a hiatus hernia or the treatment for reflux is not effective.

In addition, other possible symptoms such as iron deficiency anemia should be treated, and inflammation in cases of esophagitis should be reduced.

Bibliographic references:

  • Lopez, J.M. (1999). Paroxysmal motor disorders. Rev Neurol; 28(161):89-97.
  • Quintero, M.I.; López, K.; Belandria, K.; Navarro, D. (2012). Sandifer syndrome. About gastroesophageal reflux disease in children. Gen 66(2). Caracas
  • Sherman, P. et al. (2009). A Global, Evidence-Based Consensus on the Definition of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in the Pediatric Population. Am. J. Gastroenterol. 104:1278-1295.