Articles and Topics
What are febrile seizures?
Q: My 2-year-old had an ear infection with a fever, and had a seizure with it—his body got stiff, he twitched all over for about a minute, then he was sleepy afterwards. I immediately called the doctor and she examined him and said it was a “febrile seizure” and nothing to worry about. But it scared me! What do I need to know?
A: Kathy, it can be frightening to watch your child having a seizure. But you did the right thing by having your doctor examine your son and confirm the diagnosis of “febrile seizure.” As the doctor explained, this is not a serious medical problem, but it’s good to get more information to understand it fully.

Febrile seizures are convulsions that are triggered by a child’s fever. They are fairly common in young children—2-5% of children between 6 months and 5 years have febrile seizures. Once your child has had a febrile seizure, there’s a 30-50% chance that he will have another one with another illness. Febrile seizures also tend to be hereditary.

Febrile seizures usually happen in the first few hours of a fever, as the temperature is rising. You might notice that your child stiffens and twitches his arms and legs. His eyes may roll back, his breathing might be irregular, he might drool, and his lips may look bluish. Febrile seizures usually last less than 1 minute (although it often seems longer), but they can last up to 15 minutes. After the seizure ends, your child may be sleepy.

During the seizure, try to make sure your son doesn’t hurt himself:
  • Place him on the floor or bed, away from hard objects.
  • Turn his head to the side so his saliva or vomit drains out of his mouth.
  • Don’t put anything such as your hand or a stick in his mouth—you might choke him or get bitten. Contrary to the popular myth, he won’t swallow his tongue.
  • Call the doctor.
Discuss with your doctor what to do the next time your son has an illness with a fever. Some doctors recommend giving fever-reducing medicine such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to try to prevent another seizure, although this has not been proven to help.

Thankfully, febrile seizures do not cause brain damage or paralysis. Children who have had a febrile seizure have only a slightly higher risk of developing epilepsy, recurrent seizures unrelated to fevers. Over 95% of children with febrile seizures outgrow them by 5 or 6 years of age and never have another seizure.

For more information, visit the National Institutes of Health at
http://www.ninds.nih.gov/health_and_medical/pubs/febrile_seizures.htm