The Pediatric Center: What You Need to Know About Febrile seizures in Children

Fevers can trigger febrile seizures in children. These seizures sometime referred to as fits or spells, occur in about 2% to 5% of children between 6 months and 5 years of age. Although frightening for caregivers and parents, these seizures are generally harmless. The Pediatric Center wants caregivers to understand what febrile seizures in children are and how to act during a seizure episode.

What are febrile seizures?

Typically a febrile seizure will usually happen during the first few hours of a fever. Febrile seizures are accompanied by a fever above 100.4 °F. Signs of a seizure can be moderate to more severe. During a seizure episode the child may look unusual for a few moments, they may stiffen, twitch, convulse, shake and roll their eyes. During the episode the child may vomit or urinate. They will be unresponsive for a short time, breathing patterns will often be disrupted and skin may appear a darker color than normal. After the seizure, the child will quickly return to normal. Febrile seizures typically last for less than 1 minute, however, rarely these seizures can last for up to 15 minutes.

It is rare for febrile seizures in children to happen more than once in a 24-hour period. It is important to note that other seizures, those not caused by fever, can last longer, may affect only one part of the body, and may occur repeatedly.

What causes children to have febrile seizures?

It is unclear why some children get febrile seizures. There is evidence that suggest that the seizures are linked to certain kinds of viruses and the resulting seizure is a reaction to a high fever within a child’s developing brain. Febrile seizures are more likely to accompany a fever from a viral infection than a bacterial infection. A febrile seizure is also more likely to occur with a fever reaching over 102.2 °F.

What you should do if your child has a febrile seizure.

Although the seizure itself is not dangerous, the child may hurt themselves on their surroundings during an episode. If your child has a febrile seizure you need to act immediately to prevent injury. Take these steps to prevent injury:

  • Place child on the floor or bed away from hard or sharp objects
  • Turn child’s head to the side allowing spit or vomit to drain from their mouth
  • Do not put anything in the child’s mouth during the episode
  • Stay with the child
  • Call your child’s doctor
  • Watch the clock, if the episode persists for more than 5 minutes, call 911 immediately

Do febrile seizures increase the risk of future seizures?

Febrile seizures in children tend to run in families. As far as future risk of seizure after an episode it is highly dependent on the age of your child at their first seizure. In children younger than 1 year of age at the time of their first seizure the chance of future febrile seizure is about 50%. On the other hand, for children older than 1 year of age at the time of their first seizure have a 30% chance of having a repeat episode.

Do febrile seizures increase my child’s risk for epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a term used for recurrent and multiple seizures. Fevers do not cause epileptic seizures. Children that have had febrile seizures are only at a slightly higher risk of developing epilepsy by age 7 than their peers that have not had febrile seizures.

Are febrile seizures in children dangerous?

Although febrile seizures are terrifying for caregivers and parents, they are harmless for the child. Parents are often afraid that these seizures will cause lasting damage to their children, however these fears are not warranted. Febrile seizures:

  • Do NOT cause brain damage
  • Do NOT cause nervous system problems
  • Do NOT cause paralysis
  • Do NOT cause intellectual disability
  • Do NOT cause death

As previously stated, the seizure itself may not be dangerous, however a child is in danger of hurting themselves on their surroundings during an episode.

How will my doctor treat febrile seizures?

Call your child’s doctor immediately if your child has a febrile seizure. They will want to examine your child to establish the cause of the fever. Treatment and determination of the cause of the fever is more important than treatment for a febrile seizure. Your child’s doctor may want to do a spinal tap to rule out serious infections such as meningitis, especially if your child is less than a year old.

Doctors generally do not recommend preventative treatment of febrile seizures with medicine. Talk to your child’s doctor if you are concerned that the seizures are prolonged or repeated. A child’s individual case should be discussed thoroughly with their doctor.

To help lower your child’s fever their doctor may recommend medicines such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Although these medicines may lower fever they do not prevent febrile seizures. Talk with your child’s doctor about the best ways to help handle your child’s fever.

We are here to help at The Pediatric Center

The Pediatric Center cares for you and you child, and we know how scary febrile seizures in children can be. If your child has a febrile seizure, try not to fear the worst, even though it is a very frightening episode. Febrile seizures are not dangerous for your child and will have no long-term physical or cognitive problems. Remember that if your child begins to seize take immediate measures to protect them from injuring themselves on their surroundings and protect their airways by turning their head to the side. Should your child ever have a febrile seizure be sure to call your doctor right away to determine the cause of the fever and begin treatment.

If you have further concerns about febrile seizures or your child’s health our friendly and helpful staff at The Pediatric Center is here to take your call and help you decide when it is time to see your child’s doctor.