Febrile Seizure

What Is It?

A febrile seizure is a seizure or convulsions which is brought on by a fever in an infant or young child. Typically these occur with a temperature above 102 degrees F (about 38.9 degrees C). They occur most commonly in children between the ages of 6 months and about 5 years. In general, they are not uncommon, occurring in as many as one in 25 children. If a child has one febrile seizure, they are more likely than others to have additional febrile convulsions before they outgrow the tendency which is usually by around 5 years of age.

The seizures are generally characterized by a loss of consciousness with convulsions (shaking) of both sides of the body. However, some convulsions can include only part of the body, less commonly. They generally only last a minute or two but can be even more brief or longer in rare cases.

Will My Child Have Another Seizure?

The younger age a child has a first febrile seizure the more likely they will have more in their childhood. Additionally, children with frequent fevers are at higher risk. There also appears to be some genetic predisposition as a child with immediate family members with a history of these convulsions are at higher risk.

Are The Seizures Harmful and How are They Treated?

Most of these seizures are harmless, causing no long term injury to the patient or their brain. However frightening the convulsions may be to parents, there is no evidence that a small number of febrile convulsions in childhood significantly impairs the patient in any way later in life.

In rare cases a child may sustain injuries from falling or may choke on food or saliva in the mouth during the seizure.

Most patients with a seizure of any type will be worked up to be sure the patient does not have other reasons to have a seizure condition besides the fever. If the patients physician suspects another cause, such as a brain tumor, meningitis or some developmental disease, additional testing will be done to diagnose these conditions. Generally, uncomplicated seizures of this type do not lead to hospitalization or any specific treatment other than supportive care for the child's febrile illness.

General care of patients with febrile illnesses, such as fluids and medications to reduce the fever (acetaminophen or ibuprofen, for example) are generally recommended, although it is unknown if these measures help prevent these seizures in susceptible children. Most of these children are not proscribed anti-seizure medications. However, in severe cases in children who have recurrent convulsions, some anti-seizure medications may be prescribed at the first onset of illness to try to prevent these seizures in the future.

Each case is different, so each patient and their parents should consult their own treating physicians about the appropriate treatment options in their case.

Do Febrile Seizures Predict Future Seizures and an Epilepsy Condition?

The vast majority of patients who experience these seizures do not go on to develop ongoing epilepsy. However, a small percentage, probably less than 2 to 5 percent, are at increased risk for developing a long-term seizure condition. This is most common in children who have long seizures, seizures affecting only part of the body, frequent seizures within a 24 hour period or other neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy, delayed developement or other neurological disease. If these conditions are not present, the risk appears very small that an given child will develop epilepsy after experiencing a febrile convulsion. Again, each child is different and specific recommendations and prognosis information should be discussed with each patient's doctor.

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Important Note: This site is not intended to offer medical advice. Every patient is different, and only your personal physician can help to counsel you about what is best for your situation. What we offer is general reference information about various disorders and treatments for your education.

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