A febrile seizure is a convulsion (shaking, twitching, muscle tightness) or fainting associated with a fever. A febrile seizure occurs in infants or small children. This seizure is not associated with any other illness or medical condition except the fever.
There are 2 types of febrile seizures:
Febrile seizures can be alarming. Fortunately, children tend to outgrow these seizures. There is also a low risk for long-term physical or mental disorders.
High body temperature due to a fever is believed to trigger the seizure. The fever is most often caused by common viral infections. Some febrile seizures may be caused by fever after routine immunizations.
Age is the greatest risk factor. Febrile seizures occur between ages 3 months and 5 years. Most febrile seizures occur in children between ages 6 months and 3 years. In general, the younger the age that the first febrile seizure occurs, the more likely it is that a child will have another seizure.
There is some evidence that febrile seizures may run in families.
A seizure typically lasts a few seconds to a few minutes. Signs of a febrile seizure include:
If you suspect your child is having a febrile seizure, stay calm and follow these steps:
Febrile seizure is diagnosed based on information about the seizure and your child's health.
Your child's bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
Images may be taken of your child's head. This can be done with:
Your child's brain function may be tested. This can be done with an electroencephalogram (EEG).
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Children will eventually outgrow febrile seizures. The treatment goal is to manage fevers that may cause seizures. This may be done by treating the underlying infection. The treatments may include medication.
To address the underlying cause of fever, the child's doctor may advise:
A rectal valium gel may be advised. This gel can interrupt seizures. It may be recommended if the child has frequent seizures and the seizure lasts more than 4-5 minutes.
Fevers can happen suddenly. A seizure can be the first sign. As a result, there is no known way to prevent a febrile seizure.
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
Caring for Kids—Canadian Paediatric Society
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NINDS febrile seizures information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Febrile-Seizures-Information-Page. Accessed September 21, 2017.
Strengell T, Uhari M, et al. Antipyretic agents preventing recurrences of febrile seizures: randomized controlled trial. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2009 Sep;163(9):799-804.
Last reviewed September 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD Last Updated: 9/25/2014