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Febrile Seizures

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Report a febrile seizure to your child’s healthcare provider.

Seizures occur when the brain sends out abnormal electrical signals to the body. One common type of seizure in children is called a febrile seizure. Febrile seizures usually occur in children as young as 3 to 6 months and up to 5 to 6 years old. They are most commonly seen in toddlers between 12 months and 18 months of age.

Children who have had a febrile seizure may have another febrile seizure before they are 6 years of age. The risk of this goes up if there is a family history of febrile seizures. It also goes up the younger the child is when he or she has the febrile seizure. For instance, a 6-month-old child who has a febrile seizure is more likely to have another seizure than is a 3-year-old child having a first seizure. Most children outgrow the risk of febrile seizures by age 6.

Febrile seizures can be very scary for parents and caregivers. But they usually don’t last long. They rarely cause long-term health problems and are rarely associated with adult epilepsy or seizures.     

Risk factors for febrile seizures

A febrile seizure can be triggered by:

  • A recent vaccine, especially a measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) shot

  • A bacterial or viral illness or infection. Viral infections are likely to cause high fevers. Examples of these infections include a cold, the flu, chickenpox, or an ear infection.

  • A family history of febrile seizures

  • A temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher. Seizures often occur at the onset of fever and are usually linked with higher temperatures.

Types of febrile seizures

Febrile seizures are classified as either simple or complex.

Simple febrile seizures:

  • Most common type

  • Last less than 15 minutes

  • Usually occur once within 24 hours

Complex febrile seizures:

  • Affect only one limb or one side of the body

  • Last longer than 15 minutes

  • Usually occur more than once within 24 hours

Symptoms of a febrile seizure

Febrile seizures can last for anywhere between a few seconds and several minutes. These are the most common signs of febrile seizures:

  • Jerking of muscles (convulsions)

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Biting of cheek or tongue

  • Clenched teeth or jaw

  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

  • Change in breathing pattern

After the seizure is over, children often feel sleepy or confused. They may have a headache. And they may have no memory of the seizure.

What to do if your child has a seizure

If your child shows signs of having a febrile seizure:

  • Stay calm.

  • Make a note of the time the seizure started.

  • Roll the child onto his or her side (to avoid choking on their saliva or vomit).

  • Remove any nearby objects that your child might hit, causing additional injury.

  • Loosen any clothing around your child’s head and neck.

  • Stay with your child until the seizure is over.

  • Keep track of how long the seizure lasts.

  • Call 911 if the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes.

Call your child's healthcare provider and report the seizure. Be able to describe what happened before, during, and after the seizure.

What not to do during a seizure

  • Don’t put your child in a cold bath.

  • Don’t stop (restrain) your child’s movements.

  • Don’t put anything in your child’s mouth.

  • Don't try to move or hold down your child's tongue. Your child will not choke on his or her tongue during a seizure.

  • Don’t give your child anything to eat or drink until he or she is awake and alert.

When to call your child's healthcare provider

Call your child's provider right away if your child has any of the following signs or symptoms:

  • Fever (see Fever and children, below)

  • A seizure for the first time

  • A previously diagnosed heart condition

  • Another seizure shortly after the first

  • Extreme weakness in the arms and legs

  • Continuous shakes or tremors

  • A lot of pain or a severe headache

  • Your child getting worse, or still sick once the fever is down

  • Signs of fluid loss (dehydration). These include severe thirst, dark yellow urine, not urinating often, dull or sunken eyes, dry skin, and dry or cracked lips.

Call 911

Call 911 right away if your child:

  • Has a seizure that lasts 5 minutes or more 

  • Has a stiff neck

  • Vomits during the seizure

  • Remains unconscious, unresponsive, or confused after the seizure

  • Has trouble breathing

  • Has trouble swallowing or talking

  • Has pale or bluish skin

  • Is injured during the seizure

Fever and children

Use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Don't use a mercury thermometer. There are different kinds and uses of digital thermometers. They include:

  • Rectal. For children younger than 3 years, a rectal temperature is the most accurate.

  • Forehead (temporal). This works for children age 3 months and older. If a child under 3 months old has signs of illness, this can be used for a first pass. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Ear (tympanic). Ear temperatures are accurate after 6 months of age, but not before.

  • Armpit (axillary). This is the least reliable but may be used for a first pass to check a child of any age with signs of illness. The provider may want to conform with a rectal temperature.

  • Mouth (oral). Don't use a thermometer in your child's mouth until he or she is at least 4 years old.

Use the rectal thermometer with care. Follow the product maker's directions for correct use. Insert it gently. Label it and make sure it's not used in the mouth. It may pass on germs from the stool. If you don't feel OK using a rectal thermometer, ask the healthcare provider what type to use instead. When you talk with any healthcare provider about your child's fever, tell him or her which type you used.

Below are guidelines to know if your young child has a fever. Your child's healthcare provider may give you different numbers for your child. Follow your provider's specific instructions.

Fever readings for a baby under 3 months old:

  • First, ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead:100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 99°F (37.2°C) or higher

Fever readings for a child age 3 months to 36 months (3 years):

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear: 102°F (38.9°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 101°F (38.3°C) or higher

Call the healthcare provider in these cases:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher in a child of any age

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher in baby younger than 3 months

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under age 2 years

  • Fever that lasts for 3 days in a child age 2 or older

Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Kenny Turley PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: Maryann Foley RN BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 5/1/2020
© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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