Febrile seizures 

Introduction 

Fever and vomiting

Find out if your child's fever and vomiting is a sign of a serious illness or the result of a common virus with no cause for alarm.

Media last reviewed: 02/10/2013

Next review due: 02/10/2015

Febrile seizures and epilepsy

Many parents worry that if their child has one or more febrile seizures, they will develop epilepsy when they get older. Epilepsy is a condition where a person has repeated seizures without fever.

While it is true that children who have a history of febrile seizures have an increased risk of developing epilepsy, it should be stressed that the risk is still small.

It is estimated that children with a history of simple febrile seizures have a 1 in 50 chance of developing epilepsy in later life. Children with a history of complex febrile seizures have a 1 in 20 chance of developing epilepsy in later life.

This is compared to around a 1 in 100 chance for people who have not had febrile seizures.

A febrile seizure is a fit that occurs when a child has a fever. It's a relatively common childhood condition and not serious in most cases.

Febrile seizures are also sometimes called febrile convulsions.

During most seizures the child's body becomes stiff, they lose consciousness and their arms and legs twitch. Some children may wet themselves. This is what's known as a tonic clonic seizure.

Read more about the symptoms of febrile seizures.

Frightening but harmless

Seeing a child having a seizure, particularly if they have no previous history of fits, can be frightening and distressing for the parents.

Many parents say they were convinced that their child was going to die. However, while febrile seizures may be frightening, most are harmless and do not pose a threat to a child’s health.

What to do during a seizure

If your child is having a febrile seizure, place them in the recovery position. Lay them on their side, on a soft surface, with their face turned to one side. This will stop them swallowing any vomit. It will keep their airway open and help to prevent injury.

Stay with your child and try to make a note of  how long it lasts.

If it is your child's first seizure, or it lasts longer than five minutes, take them to the nearest hospital as soon as possible or call 999 for an ambulance. While it is unlikely that there is anything seriously wrong, it is best to be sure.

If your child has had febrile seizures before and the seizure lasts for less than five minutes, phone your GP or NHS 111 for advice.

Try not to put anything, including medication, in your child’s mouth during a seizure as there is a slight chance that they might bite their tongue.

Almost all children make a complete recovery, and there is not a single reported case of a child dying as the direct result of a febrile seizure.

Read more about diagnosing febrile seizures and treating febrile seizures.

Types of febrile seizure

There are two main types of febrile seizure:

Simple febrile seizure

A simple febrile seizure is the most common type of febrile seizure, accounting for about 8 out of 10 cases. A simple febrile seizure is a fit that:

  • is a tonic clonic seizure
  • does not last longer than 15 minutes
  • does not reoccur during the period in which your child has an illness

Complex febrile seizure

Complex febrile seizures are less common, accounting for 2 out of 10 cases. A complex febrile seizure is any seizure that has one or more of the following features:

  • the seizure lasts longer than 15 minutes
  • your child only has symptoms in one part of their body – this is known as a partial or focal seizure
  • your child has another seizure within 24 hours of the first seizure or during the period in which they have an illness
  • your child does not fully recover from the seizure within one hour

Why do febrile seizures happen?

The cause of febrile seizures is unknown, although it is linked to the start of a fever – a high temperature of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or above.

In most cases, a high temperature is caused by an infection, such as:

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. Around one in four children affected by febrile seizures has a family history of the condition.

Read more about the causes of febrile seizures.

Who is affected?

Febrile seizures are quite common. An estimated 1 in 20 children will have at least one febrile seizure at some point. Most febrile seizures occur between the ages of six months and three years. The average age is 18 months.

Complications

Febrile seizures have been linked to an increased risk of epilepsy, as well as other problems.

Recent research has reported initial findings that may indicate a link between febrile seizures and sudden unexplained death in childhood (SUDC), possibly due to the connection between febrile seizures and epilepsy.

However, this link has not been proven and SUDC is incredibly rare, affecting only around 1 in 100,000 children (equivalent to a 0.001% chance).

In addition, one of the biggest studies of its kind looked at more than 1.5 million children with a history of febrile seizures and found no evidence of an increased risk of death in later childhood or adulthood.




Page last reviewed: 01/10/2012

Next review due: 01/10/2014

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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Qwase said on 23 March 2014

I have a 21month old and I sit on her arms and legs and hold her head straight when I need to drug her. It's not particularly pleasant but the distress is short lived (for both of us) and its worth it.

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Nicky2012 said on 24 February 2014

Well, when ur GP consults ur baby 21 months with 39.5 fever and explain that this child does refuses oral medicine, what should GP do? Send me to buy more oral medicine and have a convulsion at home!
The system is wrong! The child should be treated then and then! Why do I have to go through this? And my poor baby too? Why Nhs can't give injectable? Why on earth I call the 999 for? To be told, oh, well it is normal? Are u all nuts?
Nhs needs to let doctors to administrate injectables for fever! For god sake! I ve seen my child on the floor ! I m so mad about the way the system works!

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