Febrile seizures are full-body convulsions that can happen during a fever (febrile means "feverish"). They affect kids 6 months to 5 years old, and are most common in toddlers 12 to 18 months old. The seizures usually last for a few minutes and are accompanied by a fever above 100.4º F (38º C).
While they can be frightening, febrile seizures usually end without treatment and don't cause any other health problems. Having one doesn't mean that a child will have epilepsy or brain damage.
About Febrile Seizures
During a febrile seizure, a child's whole body may convulse, shake, and twitch, and he or she may moan or become unconscious. This type of seizure is usually over in a few minutes, but in rare cases can last up to 15 minutes.
Febrile seizures stop on their own, while the fever continues until it is treated. Some kids might feel sleepy afterwards; others feel no lingering effects.
No one knows why febrile seizures occur, although evidence suggests that they're linked to certain viruses. Kids with a family history of febrile seizures are more likely to have one, and about 35% of kids who have had one seizure will experience another (usually within the first 1-2 years of the first).
Febrile seizures are not considered epilepsy, but kids who've had a seizure are at a slightly increased risk for developing epilepsy, especially if there is a family history.
Treating Febrile Seizures
If your child has a febrile seizure, stay calm and:
- Make sure your child is in a safe place and cannot fall down or hit something hard.
- Lay your child on his or her side to prevent choking.
- Watch for signs of breathing difficulty, including any color change in your child's face.
- If the seizure lasts more than 10 minutes, or your child turns blue, it is probably a more serious type of seizure — call 911 right away.
It's also important to know what you should not do during a febrile seizure:
- Do not try to hold or restrain your child.
- Do not put anything in your child's mouth.
- Do not try to give your child fever-reducing medicine.
- Do not try to put your child into cool or lukewarm water to cool off.
Again, unless the seizure lasts for more than 10 minutes or your child has trouble breathing, there's no need to rush to the ER.
When the seizure is over, call your doctor for an evaluation. The doctor will examine your child and ask you to describe the seizure. In most cases, no additional treatment is necessary. The doctor may recommend the standard treatment for fevers, which is acetaminophen or ibuprofen. But if your child is under 1 year old, looks very ill, or has other symptoms such as diarrhea or vomiting, the doctor may recommend some testing.
Febrile seizures can be scary to witness but remember that they're fairly common, are not usually a symptom of serious illness, and in most cases don't lead to other health problems. If you have any questions or concerns, talk with your doctor.
Reviewed by: Nicole Green, MD
Date reviewed: October 2009