Febrile seizures are seizures (convulsions) that happen when a child has a fever.
Key points about febrile seizures
- About one in every 20 children will have a febrile seizure.
- The seizures are brief, usually lasting less than 2 minutes.
- They can occur between 6 months and 6 years of age but are most common between 12 months and 30 months of age.
- Febrile seizures are harmless and the child makes a full recovery.
|Seek immediate medical help and dial 111 if:|
If my child has had a febrile seizure will they have another one?
Most children who have febrile seizures will only ever have one of them. Roughly a third of children will have another febrile seizure with a subsequent illness. The chances your child will have more than one febrile seizure is increased if they had their first seizure under 18 months of age or there are other family members who have had febrile seizures.
What should I do if my child is having a seizure?
- Stay calm and try not to panic. It is a terrible thing to have to watch your child have a seizure, but remember they are not going to die, the seizure will stop and it is not causing brain damage. The worst thing really is how awful you feel at the time. Your child, fortunately, will have no memory of the event.
- Lie your child on one side with their head turned to the side and keep them away from furniture and heaters. Don’t put anything in your child’s mouth or put them into a bath or shower to cool down.
- Time how long it lasts.
- Take your child to a doctor once the seizure is over to find the cause of the fever.
What causes febrile seizures?
Febrile means ‘relating to fever’. A fever is a high temperature. Children who have febrile seizures are born with a genetic predisposition to have seizures when they get a high temperature. Not every fever will trigger a seizure. Most children with febrile seizures will only ever have one of them. Usually, the fever is caused by a viral infection, such as chickenpox, flu, a middle ear infection or tonsillitis.
The chance of your child having febrile seizures is higher if a close family member has a history of febrile seizures.
In rare cases, febrile seizures can occur after your child has had a vaccination.
What happens in febrile seizures?
The usual type of seizure is called a generalised tonic-clonic seizure. The seizures are usually brief, lasting less than 2 minutes. During the seizure, your child may:
- become stiff
- lose consciousness
- experience jerking of their arms and legs
- wet or soil themselves
- vomit or foam at the mouth
- roll back their eyes.
Afterwards, they may be sleepy for about an hour.
How are febrile seizures diagnosed?
If your child has a seizure with a fever, take them to see your family doctor. Your doctor will want to know:
- how long the seizure lasted
- what happened, such as body stiffening, twitching, staring or loss of consciousness
- how long it took for your child to recover
- whether they've had a seizure before.
Should I get medical help for febrile seizures?
Most seizures stop within a minute or two and don’t need immediate treatment, but do go to your doctor afterward.
Seek immediate medical help and dial 111 if:
- the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes
- your child has trouble breathing
- the seizures occur more than once in 24 hours
- if you are worried about an underlying illness such as meningitis.
Can febrile seizures be prevented?
No – there is nothing you can do to prevent a febrile seizure. However, it is a good idea not to make your child even hotter than they are. If your child has a fever:
- take off their clothes down to their underwear
- keep the room cool without having a draught blowing directly on them
- give them plenty of water or other fluids
- don’t sleep in the same bed as them, because you will make them hotter
- although paracetamol or ibuprofen will not prevent a seizure, it can make children feel less miserable when they have a fever. This means that it is generally recommended that they take this medication regularly according to dosage instructions when they are awake.
Will my child develop epilepsy?
Children with febrile seizures do not have epilepsy. Epilepsy is diagnosed when a child has 2 or more seizures without fever. Some children who have febrile seizures can go on to develop epilepsy but this only occurs rarely. If your child has normal development, no family history of epilepsy and their seizure was short (less than 15 minutes), involved both sides of their body, and there was only one in 24 hours, then your child has no increased risk of developing epilepsy than a child who has not had a febrile seizure.
Will my child have learning or behavioral problems if they have febrile seizures?
Febrile seizures that are shorter than 30 minutes do not cause any brain damage. In fact, even seizures that last as long as 60 minutes can have minimal impact on the brain. There is good research to show that children with febrile seizures are no more likely to have learning or behavioural problems than other children who have never had febrile seizures.