Pronounced: FEEB-ril SEE-zherz
by Sonja Lyons
A febrile seizure is a convulsion (shaking, twitching, muscle tightness) or fainting associated with a fever. It occurs in infants or small children. This seizure is not associated with any other illness or medical condition except the fever.
There are two types of febrile seizures called simple and complex. They are determined by the length of seizure, how often they recur and recovery characteristics:
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 the ages of three months to five years. Most febrile seizures occur in children between 6 months to 3 years of age. 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 a tendency for febrile seizures may run in families.
Signs of a febrile seizure include:
If you suspect your child is having a febrile seizure, stay calm and follow these steps:
Your doctor will diagnose febrile seizure based on information of the seizure and your child's health. The doctor will also look for other medical conditions that can cause a seizure and fever. They include meningitis, encephalitis, or any other intracranial disease. Your doctor will rule these out before diagnosing a febrile seizure.
To determine the source of the fever or rule out other conditions your doctor may order:
Additional evaluations of the brain may be needed after complex febrile seizures. This is done to look for any injuries due to prolonged or severe seizures. Tests may include:
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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 addressing the underlying infection. The treatments may include medication.
To address the underlying cause of fever your doctor may recommend:
Your doctor may recommend a rectal valium gel. This gel can interrupt seizures. It may be recommended if your child has frequent seizures and the seizure lasts more than 4-5 minutes.
About 30% of children will suffer another febrile seizure when they have a fever. Unfortunately, a fever can happen suddenly. The seizure can be the first sign. Simple febrile seizures can be scary but do not harm the brain. As a result preventative treatment is often not recommended.
Daily antiseizure medicine may prevent seizures in children with prolonged or frequent seizures. Examples of these medicines are phenobarbital and valproic acid. These medicines do have significant side effects. Talk to your doctor about preventative medication.
Follow up with your doctor as recommended. Very few will develop long term problems like adult- epilepsy. There is less than 1% risk for of developing adult epilepsy in a child with a simple febrile seizure. This risk is higher for children with:
American Academy of Pediatrics
Caring for Kids
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Febrile seizure. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated July 11, 2012. Accessed July 20, 2012.
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National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) febrile seizures information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.n... . Accessed July 20, 2012.
Shellhaas, R, Camfield, C, Camfield, P. Febrile seizures. In: Gilman S, ed. MedLink Neurology . San Diego, CA: MedLink Corporation. MedLink website. Available at: http://www.medlink.com . Accessed May 12, 2008.
Strengell T, Uhari M, Tarkka R, 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 2013 by Kari Kassir, MD
Last Updated: 9/30/2013