Children and Febrile Seizures

By Tracy Wright

For parents, especially those of infants, a child contracting a fever can be scary enough. If you add a seizure to that fever, it can be downright terrifying. It’s important for parents to understand seizures that accompany fevers, known as febrile seizures. A seizure is caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. A febrile seizure can occur as a result of the fever that accompanies bacterial or viral infections, especially roseola.

While febrile seizures are rare (fewer than 200,000 cases per year according to the Mayo Clinic), parents should still be aware of this type of pediatric seizure. Although a scary experience, febrile seizures are one of the most common types of seizures in pediatric patients and develop as a result of a fever above 100.4 degrees that accompany infections. Typically, febrile seizures affect children between the ages of 6 months through 5 years with the majority of those occurring between 12-18 months of age.

“Children who are at a higher risk for having febrile seizures include those with a family history and those who have a higher temperature than typical with an illness,” said Jacqueline Michel, D.O., a pediatrician with UF Health Pediatrics – Tower Square. “Once a child has a febrile seizure, they are at a higher risk of having them again in the future.” Once a child is at risk, they could have different types of febrile seizures.

There are two types of febrile seizures: simple seizures and complex seizures. According to the Mayo Clinic, a simple febrile seizure lasts anywhere between a few seconds to 15 minutes and do not occur more than once in a 24-hour period. Generally with simple seizures, a child loses consciousness and experience twitching that is not isolated to a specific region of the body. Alternatively, a child can experience a complex seizure. Information from the Mayo Clinic classifies a complex febrile seizure as a seizure that will last more than 15 minutes and can occur multiple times in a 24-hour period. Additionally, a complex febrile seizure is limited to one side of the body.

Although febrile seizures are a frightening experience for parents, there is no significant post-seizure damage. The child will experience some grogginess and have low energy for the next day or so, but should return to their normal, healthy state within a day. Additionally, studies have shown that febrile seizures do not cause brain damage or affect intelligence. However, it is still important that parents or caretakers act immediately, Michel said.

“If a child is having a febrile seizure, it is important to seek immediate medical attention, which often means calling 911 for parents who are not used to caring for children with seizures. It is important to place them onto their side, but do not try to stop the convulsions. Do not place anything in their mouth. Be sure that someone stays with the child at all times,” Michel said.

Children who have already had febrile seizures have a 60 percent risk of it happening again. There is also a slightly increased risk for children who have febrile seizures to develop epilepsy though there is not a high incidence. “As there are many different types of febrile seizures, parents of children who have frequent or more complicated febrile seizures should discuss with their physicians if referral to a specialist is warranted,” Michel said.

If your child is experiencing a febrile seizure, remember to stay calm through the situation and know that, while a frightening experience, you and your child will be okay and they will be back to being a fun-loving child again soon.