Febrile seizures are convulsions that can occur in children with fever.
Febrile seizures occur in 3% to 4% of children who are younger than 5 years old. Fever lowers the seizure threshold in the brain. The whole brain can then "short-circuit," resulting in a generalized motor seizure.
This kind of seizure usually happens when there is a rapid rise in temperature.
Although these seizures can occur with fevers up to 104 or more degrees Fahrenheit, some seizures may occur at a lower temperatures.
During a seizure, the child becomes unconscious. The eyes can roll upward. The arms and legs can become stiff or jerk. A febrile seizure can last from 1 minute several minutes. A few may last longer—even up to 5 to 10 minutes.
Fever triggers a febrile seizure. This type of seizure is more common in children with a family history of febrile seizures. It also occurs more often in children with epilepsy, a previously diagnosed seizure disorder.
While some recommend that a fever should be treated early, the evidence that such early helps is mixed—that is, early treatment may not be enough to prevent seizures. Up to thirty percent of children who have had one febrile seizure will have another one.
Diagnosis of febrile seizures begins with a history and physical exam. It is important to consider the possibility of an underlying brain disorder or epilepsy.
Children who have had a true febrile seizure have only a very mildly elevated risk of having epilepsy later on in life.
Febrile seizures are not contagious, though the underlying illness that caused the fever may be contagious.
The goal of treatment is to reduce the fever using acetaminophen (i.e., Tylenol) or ibuprofen (i.e., Advil, Motrin).
Children should not be given aspirin unless it is prescribed by a healthcare provider. Aspirin given for some viral illnesses may increase the risk of Reye's syndrome.
When a child does have a fever, it is important not to bundle him or her in too many blankets. Bundling up with clothes and blankets may increase the child's temperature.
Anticonvulsant medicines are generally not used if there is no underlying disease, such as epilepsy.
Medications to reduce fever may cause stomach upset or allergic reactions.
A true febrile seizure generally resolves without problems. The child is at risk for febrile seizures in the future.
Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.