Infants and children often have illnesses that are accompanied by a fever. A fever might bring on a seizure at some time during childhood. A febrile seizure is a convulsion caused by abnormal electrical activity in the nerve cells of the brain that is brought on by having a fever.

The exact cause of febrile seizures is not known. Seizures might occur when a child's temperature rises or falls rapidly. In many cases, a seizure might not be predicted or prevented. In addition, febrile seizures might run in families.

Facts about febrile seizures
  • A febrile seizure usually occurs between 6 months and 5 years of age.
  • Usually, children have a rectal temperature greater than 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Usually, the seizure would occur during the first day of the fever.
  • Febrile seizures usually last 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Most children only have one or two febrile seizures in childhood.
  • A febrile seizure might involve only one arm or one side of the body, which is focal, and then progress to the whole body, which is generalized. It also may affect both sides of the body from the start.
  • Epilepsy is a disorder of repeated seizures that occur without fever. Even repeated febrile seizures do not indicate that a child has epilepsy.
  • Febrile seizures generally do not cause brain damage unless they last for a prolonged period of time and the child is not getting enough oxygen.

How can I help to prevent a fever?

  • Give fever medicine as prescribed by your child's doctor.
  • Don't bundle up or overdress your child. The body loses heat through the skin. If you bundle up your child, the excess heat cannot escape.
  • Sponge your child with lukewarm water or put him or her in a shallow bathtub containing 2 to 3 inches of water and drip water over his or her body. Do not use alcohol or cold water to bring down your child's fever.
  • If your child begins shivering or shaking in the bathtub, stop sponging and remove him or her from the bath water.
  • While your child has a fever, give plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

What are the symptoms of a febrile seizure?

* Not all symptoms might occur

  • A fever that is high or a rapid rise in body temperature
  • Loss of consciousness or fainting that lasts 30 seconds to five minutes
  • General muscle contraction and rigidity that usually last 15 to 20 seconds
  • Violent rhythmic muscle contractions and relaxation that commonly last for one to two minutes
  • Biting of cheek or tongue
  • Clenched teeth or jaw
  • Rolling of the eyes back in the head
  • Loss of control of urine or stool
  • Absence of breathing or difficulty breathing during a seizure and blue skin color (Deep, spontaneous breathing, usually resumes after the seizure.)
First-aid for febrile seizures
  • Stay calm.
  • Protect the child from injury.
  • Do not attempt to restrain or hold the child down during the seizure.
  • Turn the child onto his or her side if vomiting occurs.
  • Do not put anything in your child's mouth.
  • Loosen clothing.
  • Support your child's head with a pillow or soft object.
  • Try to note how long the seizure lasts, what types of movements are occurring, and which parts of the body it is affecting.
  • Notify your doctor.
  • After the seizure subsides, your child will be disoriented for a few minutes while the brain rests and recharges. This is normal.
Call 9-1-1 ambulance if:
  • This is the first time the child has had a seizure or if this is a new type of seizure for the child.
  • The seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes.
  • Repeated seizures occur.
  • Your child has difficulty breathing.
  • Your child’s skin appears to be blue in color.

Febrile Seizures Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Accessed April 21, 2011.

Febrile Seizures. American Academy of Family Physicians. Accessed April 21, 2011.

Patient information: Febrile seizures. Up to Date. Accessed April 21, 2011.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 3/29/2011...#7001