Febrile seizures in children – not as scary as you think
I frequently see patients that have just had their first (or subsequent) febrile seizure. Parents are often freaking out, nervous that this will mean a lifetime of seizures for their child. Not so! Don’t despair, most febrile seizures are benign and not worrisome. The most common seizure causes in children is fever.
I know how scary seizures look! The most important thing you can do is remain calm and collected and carefully observe your child.
What is a seizure?
Seizures (convulsions) brought on by fever in kids (usually) less than 6 years old. During the seizure the child will lose consciousness and shake, usually symmetrically on both sides of the body with legs and arms involved together. Most last less than a minute, but they can last over 15 minutes.
What causes a seizure?
Most febrile seizures occur on the first day of the fever, as the fever peaks. They occur in 2-4% of all kids under 5! The majority take place between 12 and 18 months. 30-50% of kids that have a first febrile seizure will have another, especially if the first took place before age 1. A child is more likely to have febrile seizures if a family member had them as well.
Signs of a seizure
Most children with febrile seizures will lose consciousness (not be responsive), their eyes will roll to the back of the head and there will be rhythmic shaking of the arms and legs. Some kids will be incontinent.
Are febrile seizures dangerous?
Many parents are worried that the seizure will cause brain damage or other ill effects. In fact most febrile seizures are very brief and do not cause damage. However, during the seizure the child may fall, choke on food, or bite their lip or tongue, which can cause injury. Only about 2% of children that have febrile seizures will go on to develop epilepsy, or recurrent non-febrile seizures.
What do I do if my child has a febrile seizure?
I know how scary seizures look! The most important thing you can do is remain calm and collected and carefully observe your child. Ensure that he or she is in a safe space, ideally on the floor with nothing dangerous around that can cause harm. Carefully put the child on their side Do not hold him or her, and certainly never put anything in the mouth. Your child is not at risk of swallowing the tongue – this is a myth. I have seen parents have their fingers bitten off during a child’s seizure!
As soon as you have your wits about you, start timing the seizure. If it lasts more than 10 min please call 911. The paramedics can give a medicine to stop the seizure and a doctor can ensure there is no infection or injury. Most children with a uncomplicated febrile seizure do not need to be admitted to hospital.
If your child has a focal seizure, where only one arm or leg, or one side of the face, is shaking, please see a physician immediately. These seizures are more likely to be dangerous.
Can I prevent febrile seizures?
There are no studies that show that we can prevent febrile seizures, even with fever lowering medicine or anti-seizure medicines.
To learn more about how to treat a fever, click here.
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