What is a febrile seizure?

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 1 or 2 febrile seizures in childhood.
  • A febrile seizure might involve only 1 arm or 1 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.

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 5 minutes.
  • General muscle contraction and rigidity that usually last 15 to 20 seconds.
  • Violent rhythmic muscle contractions and relaxation that commonly last for 1 to 2 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.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/29/2011.

References

  • Febrile Seizures Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. www.ninds.nih.gov. Accessed April 21, 2011.
  • Febrile Seizures. American Academy of Family Physicians. familydoctor.org. Accessed April 21, 2011.
  • Patient information: Febrile seizures. Up to Date. www.uptodate.com. Accessed April 21, 2011.

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