What is a febrile seizure?
Infants and small children can often experience a fever when they’re sick. This rising of the child’s body temperature is typically just a sign of the body working against the illness. In many cases, it’s something to watch and carefully monitor, but not panic about. However, a fever can sometimes bring on a seizure in childhood. A febrile seizure is usually a convulsion (irregular or uncontrollable movement in the body) that’s caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. This unusual activity is sometimes sparked by a childhood fever.
Febrile seizures usually happen when a child is between the ages of 6 months and 5 years. The seizures typically happen during the first day of the fever and last for about three to five minutes. For most children, febrile seizures only happen one or two times during childhood.
Unless they last for a prolonged period of time, febrile seizures generally don’t cause brain damage. If the seizure lasts longer than a few minutes, there’s a chance that the child’s brain won’t get enough oxygen. A lack of oxygen can harm the brain.
What parts of the body are impacted by febrile seizures?
A febrile seizure might involve only one arm or one side of the child’s body. You might hear this called focal febrile seizure because it’s located on one side of the body — usually face, arm, leg or all of them on one side of the body. The seizure can progress to whole body convulsions — called a generalized seizure. For some people, a febrile seizure can affect both sides of the body right from the start.
What temperature does a child usually have during a febrile seizure?
One of the most accurate ways to measure a small child’s temperature is rectally. Children who have febrile seizures tend to have a rectal temperature that’s higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
Are febrile seizures hereditary?
Febrile seizures could run in your family. If you know of someone in your family who experienced this condition in childhood, talk to your healthcare provider about it when discussing any possible hereditary (passed down through a family) conditions.
Are febrile seizures related to epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a medical condition where one can experience repeated seizures without any triggers (the seizures are unprovoked). These seizures happen without fever. This is the big difference between epilepsy and febrile seizures — when a child has febrile seizures, there’s a fever. Even if your child had recurrent febrile seizures, this doesn’t mean that the child has epilepsy.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes a febrile seizure?
The exact reason febrile seizures happen isn’t clear. These seizures might happen when a child’s temperature rises rapidly. In many cases, there’s no way to predict or prevent a febrile seizure.
What are the symptoms of a febrile seizure?
There are several different symptoms of a febrile seizure, however, not every child will experience all of these symptoms. One child might only have a few of these symptoms, while another child may have many of the symptoms on the list.
Possible symptoms of a febrile seizure can include:
- A fever that’s high or a rapid rise in body temperature.
- Loss of consciousness or fainting like episode that lasts 30 seconds to five minutes.
- General muscle contraction and rigidity that usually lasts 15 to 20 seconds.
- Violent rhythmic muscle contractions and relaxations that commonly lasts for one to two minutes.
- Biting of the cheek or tongue.
- Clenching of the teeth or jaw.
- Rolling of the eyes back in the head or persistent eye deviation to one side.
- Losing control of urine or stool.
- Absence of breathing or difficulty breathing during a seizure. The skin may also be a blue color. After the seizure ends, the child might take deep, spontaneous breaths.
Management and Treatment
What do I do if my child has a febrile seizure?
If you’re child has a febrile seizure there are several things you should do. During a febrile seizure, try to:
- Stay calm.
- Protect your child from injury.
- Do not attempt to restrain or hold the child down during the seizure.
- Turn your 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 happening and which parts of the child’s body it’s affecting.
- If the seizure continues for greater than two minutes, call 911.
- Call your doctor and have your child examined urgently for infection and seizure. Consider referral to a seizure specialist as appropriate.
After the seizure ends, your child will be disoriented for a few minutes while the brain rests and recharges. This is normal.
When should I call for help if my child has a febrile seizure?
There are several things to watch for during a febrile seizure that would mean calling for emergency help. Call 911 if your child:
- Is having a seizure for the first time or experiencing a new type of seizure.
- Is experiencing a seizure that lasts longer than 2-3 minutes.
- Is having repeated seizures.
- Has difficulty breathing.
- Has a blue skin color.
How can I help to prevent a fever?
Even though you can’t prevent a febrile seizure, there are a few things you can do to reduce your child’s chance of developing a fever.
Some daily tips for preventing a fever in your child can include:
- Giving fever medicine as prescribed by your child’s doctor.
- Not bundling up or overdressing your child. The body loses heat through the skin. If you bundle up your child, the excess heat cannot escape.
- Sponging your child with lukewarm water or putting him or her in a shallow bathtub containing 2 to 3 inches of water and dripping water over the child’s body. If your child starts shivering or shaking in the bathtub, stop sponging and remove him or her from the bath water. Also, don’t use alcohol or cold water to bring down your child’s fever.
- Giving your child plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration during a fever.
- Promptly treating any infection that may be producing the fever.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Seizures can be scary. Febrile seizures are unpredictable and, in most cases, not something you can prevent from happening. If your child experiences febrile seizures, make sure you have a plan ready for each seizure. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to care for your child both during and after seizures. Remember, febrile seizures are usually a condition of early childhood and don’t last for the child’s entire life.