Parents are often hot to ask me questions about convulsions, or seizures that are associated with fevers. We call these febrile seizures.
What are febrile seizures?
Febrile seizures, which can involve shaking of the arms and legs, usually last for only a few minutes, if that. These seizures are followed by drowsiness in addition to a fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. They occur in 3-4 percent of children from 6 months to 5 years of age. They occur most commonly between 12 and 18 months, after which children outgrow them. They can run in families.
Are there lasting effects?
Most importantly, although febrile seizures can be scary to observe and are certainly concerning to parents, the vast majority have no lasting effects. Febrile seizures do not lead to brain damage and will rarely (if ever) occur again.
If a seizure is prolonged or affects only one side of the body, which is very rare, medical help should be contacted. In fact, 98% of children who experience a febrile seizure will not go on to have a seizure without fever. A seizure without an associated fever is referred to as epilepsy.
When a febrile seizure occurs
We don’t know what causes febrile seizures. However, they may occur more frequently in a setting of being iron deficient or having certain viruses, like influenza.
When a febrile seizure does occur, try to stay calm. Place your child on his/her side or at least turn the head. This is to prevent chocking. Additionally, remove any sharp or pointed objects that your child could grasp and put in their mouth. Don’t put anything in their mouth while the shaking is occurring.
In the rarest of circumstances, your child may have some trouble breathing with a seizure. In this case, you should call 911 for help. Medical attention should be contacted if a couple different things happen. Seek medical help if the seizure persists for more than 5 minutes. Additionally, seek medical help if your child is unresponsive and not coming around after the seizure has ended. Remember: This is rare!
Contact your child’s health care professional
Even if a seizure stops by itself, it’s a good idea to call your child’s health care professional. They will likely recommend that your child be seen to determine the source of the fever. Additionally, this visit helps ensure that we are not missing a serious bacterial infection like meningitis that would need antibiotics.
Treatment after febrile seizures
Treatment after a febrile seizure is usually directed at lowering the fever. This can be done with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Sometimes, a medication will be prescribed to stop the convulsion if it does not stop by itself.
Your child will rarely need further anti-seizure medicines once the fever is gone. This problem usually never occurs again, or will disappear by age 5.
Hopefully, tips like these will allow you to seize the opportunity to learn more about what a febrile seizure is all about.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.