A febrile seizure, also known as a fever fit or febrile convulsion, is a seizure associated with a high body temperature but without any serious underlying health issue. They most commonly occur in children between the ages of 6 months and 3 years.
The cause of the fevers is often a viral illness. The likelihood of a febrile seizure is related to how high the temperature reaches.
It can be frightening and distressing to see your child having a seizure, particularly if it’s their first seizure. However, these seizures are usually harmless and almost all children make a complete recovery afterwards.
The cause of febrile seizures is unknown, although they’re linked to the start of a high temperature (fever) greater than 38 °C.
There may also be a genetic link to febrile seizures, as the chances of having a seizure are increased if a close family member has a history of them.
In most cases, the child’s high temperature is caused by an infection. Common examples are chickenpox, flu, a middle ear infection, tonsillitis or viral upper respiratory infections.
Other infections associated with febrile seizures include Shigellosis, Salmonellosis, and Roseola. Although the exact mechanism is unknown, it is speculated that these infections may affect the brain directly or via a neurotoxin leading to seizures.
In very rare cases, febrile seizures can happen after a child has a vaccination.
Fever convulsions usually occur at the beginning of an infection,when the child has a fever that rises rapidly.
A febrile seizure usually lasts for less than 5 minutes. Your child will:
- become stiff and their arms and legs may begin to twitch
- lose consciousness and may wet or soil themselves
- They may also be sick and foam at the mouth, and their eyes may roll back.
After the seizure, your child may be sleepy for up to an hour. A straightforward febrile seizure like this will only happen once during your child’s illness.
Occasionally, febrile seizures can last longer than 15 minutes and symptoms may only affect one area of your child’s body.
These are known as complex febrile seizures. These seizures sometimes happen again within 24 hours or during the period in which your child is ill.
If your child is having a febrile seizure, place them in the recovery position. Stay with your child and try to make a note of how long the seizure lasts.
Do not put anything into your child’s mouth during a seizure – including medicine – as there’s a slight chance they might bite their tongue.
Try to be calm and comfort the child. There is no evidence to support administering fever reducing medications such as acetaminophen at the time of a febrile seizure or to prevent the rate of recurrence. Rapid cooling methods such as an ice bath or a cold bath should be avoided as a method to lower the child’s temperature, especially during a febrile seizure.
If the child gets repeated fever seizure, doctors can prescribe anticonvulsant drugs, according to individual assessment.
When to consult a doctor
Take your child to the nearest hospital or call emergency and ask for an ambulance if:
- your child is having a seizure for the first time
- the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes and shows no signs of stopping
- your child has multiple seizures during the same fever event
- you suspect the seizure is being caused by another serious illness – for example, meningitis
- your child is having breathing difficulties
While it’s unlikely that there’s anything seriously wrong, it’s important to get your child checked.
How APPOTEK can help
APPOTEK doctors are available for consultations with febrile seizures, but if any of the above symptoms are present, you should take your child straight to a hospital or emergency room.