Health Topics

Febrile Seizures

By DuPage Medical Group Pediatrics

The majority of children with febrile seizures have temperatures greater than 102 degrees.  Febrile seizures occur in children who are between 6 months and 5 years of age, most commonly in toddlers 12 to 18 months old.  Most febrile seizures occur during the first day of a child's illness.

Of children who have had a febrile seizure – most will only have it happen once. However, about a third of children will have a second febrile seizure.  And of those who do have a second seizure, about half of those (15% of the total) will have a third seizure.  Few children have more than three febrile seizures in their lifetime.  The number of febrile seizures is not related to future epilepsy or other long term ill effects.  Most children outgrow febrile seizures by age 5.

No one knows for sure why febrile seizures occur in some children and not in others, but it does seem to run in families, so we suspect some genetic predilection.  Febrile seizures are also often triggered by certain viruses or ear infections.  Febrile seizures are not considered epilepsy, but a child who has had a febrile seizure has a tiny increased life-time risk of developing epilepsy, especially if there is a family history of epilepsy or if your child has another underlying neurologic disorder.

Treating Febrile Seizures

Seizures are frightening to witness, but it is important that parents and caregivers stay calm and carefully observe the child.

  • Do not try to hold or restrain your child to try and stop the seizure movements
  • Lay your child down on the floor or ground, to prevent accidental injury
  • You may want to slide a blanket under the child if the floor is hard
  • Move him only if he/she is in a dangerous location (ex. in a bathtub)
  • Remove objects that may injure him/her from the surroundings (broken glass, etc)
  • Loosen any tight clothing, especially around the neck
  • Lay your child on his/her side, to prevent choking
  • Do NOT put anything in your child’s mouth, to prevent biting the tongue, as this actually increases the risk of injury
  • If there is any object in the mouth (food or toys), if possible, gently remove the object from the mouth
  • Do not give your child oral medications, including fever medicines – until the child is fully awake
  • Look at your watch when the seizure starts – (every second can seem like minutes).  If the seizure lasts more than 10 minutes – call 911.

Most febrile seizures are brief – lasting less than 2 minutes and will stop on their own.  Afterwards, your child may be sleepy or disoriented for a while.  At this point, call your child’s doctor for further instructions.  Especially if this is your child’s first febrile seizure, your child should be evaluated to find the cause of the fever and to make sure that the seizure was not caused by something other than the fever itself.  A child who has a febrile seizure usually doesn't need to be hospitalized, unless the seizure is prolonged or is accompanied by a serious infection.

Can Febrile seizures be prevented?

Most parents will use fever-lowering drugs such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) to make their child more comfortable when they have a fever, although there are NO studies that show that this will reduce the risk of a seizure.  Unfortunately, a febrile seizure is often the first sign of a fever or illness.  If your child has a febrile seizure, it does not mean that your child was not getting proper care.

Most children require no other medication.  Exceptions are children who have complicated or long lasting febrile seizures (an hour or more), and these instances occur very rarely.

Febrile seizure can be scary to witness, but keep in mind that it is usually not a symptom of serious illness.  Febrile seizures will not cause: death, brain damage, a decrease in IQ or learning difficulties.  If you have any questions or concerns, talk with your child’s doctor.

Topics and Subtopics: Children's Health

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