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Febrile Seizures

Alternate Names

  • convulsions with fever

Definition

Febrile seizures are convulsions that can occur in children with fever.

What is going on in the body?

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.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

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.

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the condition?

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.

Diagnosed

How is the condition diagnosed?

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.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

Children who have had a true febrile seizure have only a very mildly elevated risk of having epilepsy later on in life.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

Febrile seizures are not contagious, though the underlying illness that caused the fever may be contagious.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the condition?

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.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Medications to reduce fever may cause stomach upset or allergic reactions.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

A true febrile seizure generally resolves without problems. The child is at risk for febrile seizures in the future.

Monitor

How is the condition monitored?

Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.

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