Febrile seizures in a child: information for parents

  • January 6, 2023
  • 4
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It can be very distressing to see your child have a febrile seizure. They may become stiff, start to shake, lose consciousness or foam at the mouth. But, while febrile seizures can be quite shocking, they usually have no serious consequences for your child.

Let's learn more about febrile seizures in a child, and what you should do if your child has one.

What is a febrile seizure?

Febrile seizures are a kind of convulsion which happens to some children when they have a high temperature (100.4 F or above). They usually happen to children between the ages of six months and three years, although they are most common between 12 and 18 months. They are one of the most widespread child neurologic disorders, affecting between 2-5 children in 100.

There are two kinds of febrile seizures:

  • Simple febrile seizures: These last between a few seconds and 15 minutes. They occur once in a 24 hour period and your child is likely to shake all over their body.
  • Complex febrile seizures: These last longer than 15 minutes and can occur more than once within a 24 hour period. They may also be confined to just one side of your child’s body

We do not really know what causes febrile seizures, although there is a link with high temperatures. Scientists believe that there may be a genetic factor involved.

Are febrile seizures a sign my child has epilepsy?

Not usually. Epilepsy is a condition where people have two or more unprovoked seizures which are caused by unusual electrical discharges in their brain. In a febrile seizure, the seizure is provoked by the high temperature - so it is not the same as epilepsy.

Most children who have febrile seizures have simple febrile seizures, and they usually grow out of them without developing epilepsy. However, children who have complex febrile seizures are slightly more likely to develop epilepsy. But even then, the chances are fairly low.

What to do if my child has febrile seizure symptoms?

Although it may be shocking to see your child have febrile seizure symptoms, in most cases this is not a medical emergency. While your child is having the seizure, try to put him or her in the recovery position (so they are on their side with their airways uncovered). 

Learn more: Seizure first aid

It might take your child some time to recover after having a febrile seizure, so comfort them until they are feeling back to normal.

It is important to visit your doctor after your child has had their first febrile seizure. If your child has any unusual symptoms, it could be a sign of more serious conditions, including meningitis. Your doctor may choose to do further investigations, including a lumbar puncture or an EEG to find out more about your child and to see if there are any other causes.

It is very rare for doctors to prescribe febrile seizure treatments, since these seizures usually pass on their own.

Going forward after a febrile seizure

Most of the time, children grow out of febrile seizures and they do not pose any further problems to their development or wellbeing. Still, it is important to continue monitoring your child’s seizures, noting down how long they last, and keeping in touch with your child’s doctor about any new developments.

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