What is a febrile seizure?A febrile seizure is a convulsion triggered by a fever. This type of seizure occurs most often in children between the ages of 6 months and 3 years (most children outgrow them by 5 years), and can be very worrisome to parents.
What are the symptoms of a febrile seizure? A seizure can strike with a range of symptoms, from eye-rolling and limb-stiffening to convulsions and muscle contractions across the body (but most commonly in the face, trunk, arms, and legs). A child may also cry or moan, fall, pass urine, vomit, or bite their tongue. Most febrile seizures last for 30 seconds to a couple of minutes. Some can last up to 15 minutes. After a seizure, it is common for a child to feel confused or drowsy.
What should I do if my child has a febrile seizure? If a seizure happens, stay calm. Do not restrain your child or try to stop the convulsions, and do not attempt to put anything in your child's mouth to treat the fever or to prevent tongue-biting.
Rather, move your child to an area in which he or she will be safe from falling or hitting their heads on anything hard or sharp-edged. If on a hard surface, place a blanket or item of clothing beneath your child's body. Turn your child over onto his or her side or stomach to prevent choking. Loosen any constrictive clothing.
If the fever persists after the seizure passes and your child is alert enough, you can give a fever-reducing medication, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.* Do not give medication by mouth if your child is not fully awake - acetaminophen suppositories can be used if needed.
Should I take my child to the doctor if he or she has a febrile seizure? A general post-seizure follow-up with your child's doctor is advised in order to determine the source of the fever and to rule out other causes of seizures such as meningitis. If the seizure ends quickly, take your child directly to your child's doctor or to the emergency room. If a seizure persists beyond 3 minutes or your child is less than 6 months old, call 9-1-1.
After the initial assessment by a doctor, you should also consult a doctor if your child has repeated seizures during the same illness, if the seizure seems new or different from ones your child has had in the past, or if certain symptoms occur before or after the seizure:
- agitation, confusion, or drowsiness
- abnormal movements, tremors, or coordination problems
Does a febrile seizure cause brain damage or epilepsy? While a febrile seizure can be quite frightening for parents, most episodes are harmless. There has been no evidence to link febrile seizures to brain damage, epilepsy, or any changes to intelligence or learning capabilities.
Can febrile seizure be prevented? Febrile seizures are not totally preventable. But they are more likely in certain circumstances, so you may be able to be on alert should one occur. 1 in 3 children who have a febrile seizure will have a second, and half of those children will go on to have a third occurrence. Most children outgrow the seizures by the age of 5. Febrile seizures may also run in families. Anti-fever medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen have not been shown to prevent febrile seizures.
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.