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Febrile Seizures

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Report a febrile seizure to your child’s healthcare provider.
Seizures occur when the brain sends out abnormal electrical signals to the body. One common type of seizure in children is called a febrile seizure. Febrile seizures usually occur in children between the ages of 3 months to 6 years old. They are most commonly seen in toddlers between 12 months and 18 months of age. Children who have had a febrile seizure may have another febrile seizure before they are 6 years of age. The risk of this goes up if there is a family history of febrile seizures and the younger the child is when he or she has the febrile seizure. For instance, a 6 month old who has a febrile seizure is more likely to have another seizure than is a 3 year old having a first seizure. Most children outgrow the risk of febrile seizures by age 6. Febrile seizures can be very scary for parents and caregivers. But they usually don’t last long. They rarely cause long-term health problems and are rarely associated with adult epilepsy or seizures.     

Risk factors for febrile seizures

A febrile seizure can be triggered by:

  • A recent vaccination, especially a measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) shot

  • A bacterial or viral illness or infection. This includes a cold, the flu, chickenpox, or an ear infection.

  • A family history of febrile seizures

  • A temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher 

Types of febrile seizures

Febrile seizures are classified as either simple or complex.

Simple febrile seizures:

  • Most common type

  • Last less than 15 minutes

  • Usually occur once within 24 hours

Complex febrile seizures:

  • Affect only one limb or one side of the body

  • Last longer than 15 minutes

  • Usually occur more than once within 24 hours

Symptoms of a febrile seizure

Febrile seizures can last for anywhere between a few seconds and many minutes. These are the most common signs of febrile seizures:

  • Jerking of muscles (convulsions)

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Biting of cheek or tongue

  • Clenched teeth or jaw

  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

  • Change in breathing pattern

After the seizure is over, children often feel sleepy or confused. They may have a headache. And they may have no memory of the seizure.

What to do if your child has a seizure

If your child shows signs of having a febrile seizure:

  • Stay calm.

  • Roll the child onto his or her side (to avoid choking on their saliva or vomit).

  • Remove any nearby objects that your child might hit, causing additional injury.

  • Loosen any clothing around your child’s head and neck.

  • Stay with your child until the seizure is over.

  • Keep track of how long the seizure lasts.

  • Call 911 if the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes.

Call your child's healthcare provider and report the seizure. Be able to describe what happened before, during, and after the seizure.

What not to do during a seizure

  • Don’t put your child in a cold bath.

  • Don’t stop (restrain) your child’s movements.

  • Don’t put anything in your child’s mouth.

  • Don't try to move or hold down your child's tongue. Your child will not choke on his or her tongue during a seizure.

  • Don’t give your child anything to eat or drink until he or she is awake and alert.

When to call your child's healthcare provider

Call your child's provider right away if your child has any of the following signs or symptoms.

  • Fever (see Fever and children, below)

  • A seizure for the first time

  • A previously diagnosed heart condition

  • Another seizure shortly after the first

  • Is extremely weak in the arms and legs

  • Continuous shakes or tremors

  • A lot of  pain or a severe headache

  • Your child seems to be getting worse, or still seems sick once the fever is down

  • Signs of fluid loss (dehydration). These include severe thirst, dark yellow urine, not urinating often, dull or sunken eyes, dry skin, and dry or cracked lips.

Call 911

Call 911 right away if your child:

  • Has a seizure that lasts 5 minutes or more 

  • Has a stiff neck

  • Vomits during the seizure

  • Remains unconscious, unresponsive, or confused after the seizure

  • Has trouble breathing

  • Has trouble swallowing or talking

  • Has pale or bluish skin

  • Is injured during the seizure


Fever and children

Always use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Never use a mercury thermometer.

For infants and toddlers, be sure to use a rectal thermometer correctly. A rectal thermometer may accidentally poke a hole in (perforate) the rectum. It may also pass on germs from the stool. Always follow the product maker’s directions for proper use. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a rectal temperature, use another method. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which method you used to take your child’s temperature.

Here are guidelines for fever temperature. Ear temperatures aren’t accurate before 6 months of age. Don’t take an oral temperature until your child is at least 4 years old.

Infant under 3 months old:

  • Ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead (temporal artery) temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit temperature of 99°F (37.2°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

Child age 3 to 36 months:

  • Rectal, forehead (temporal artery), or ear temperature of 102°F (38.9°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit temperature of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

Child of any age:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under 2 years old. Or a fever that lasts for 3 days in a child 2 years or older.

Online Medical Reviewer: Fraser, Marianne, MSN, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Image reviewed by StayWell art team.
Online Medical Reviewer: Perez, Eric, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2017
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