Does Your Child Get Fever Fits?
What Is a Febrile Seizure and Is It Harmful to Your Child?
A febrile seizure is a fit that is accompanied by a fever. However, a seizure due to an intracranial infection is not considered a febrile seizure.
These seizures occur in 3% of children between the ages of six months and six years. If a child has a first-degree relative with the disorder, they are more likely to have it too. Males also have a slightly higher incidence.
The onset of these fits is sudden and lasts for only a few minutes. Most children with this condition will have a fever around 102℉, but they can also occur with a milder fever. It is said that if a child gets a febrile seizure, there is a 30-40% chance that it will happen again. This is more likely if the child is very young (<15 months), if they get a seizure at mild temperatures, or if there is a family history. The pathology behind this disorder is not known.
What Are the Symptoms?
- Loss of consciousness
- Shaking or jerking of arms and legs
- Rolling back of eyes
- Tightening of the jaw
- Loss of bladder control
- Confusion/tiredness following the seizures.
These fits are almost always harmless and DO NOT cause brain damage. Therefore, they do not decrease intelligence or brain function except in rare cases (also known as prolonged fits). However, children who have febrile seizures are at an increased risk of developing epilepsy. The chance of becoming epileptic before 25 years old is approximately 2.4% for simple febrile seizures—this is a slightly higher risk than the general population. If the child has a complex seizure, the risk increases to 4-12%.
Simple Febrile Seizures
Complex Febrile Seizures
Generalized (involves the whole body)
Focal (involves only part of the body); e.g. twitching of face, jerking movements of one limb
Fits last less than 15 minutes
Fits last more than 15 minutes
Only one episode during 24 hours
Two or more episodes during 24 hours
2.4% risk of developing epilepsy
4-12% risk of developing epilepsy
What Should You Do If Your Child Gets a Fever Fit?
The main thing you must do is remain calm. This is easier said than done, but remember that you cannot help your child by panicking. The aim should be to secure your child's airway and to avoid any injury.
- Protect the child's surrounding by removing harmful objects.
- Put a pillow under their head.
- Wipe off anything coming out their mouth.
- Perform a jaw thrust or chin lift if they are having breathing difficulties.
- Do not put any material into their mouth.
- Do not try to restrain the child.
- Loosen tight clothing.
- Remember the duration of the seizure episode.
- If the child gets recurrent febrile seizures, your doctor will prescribe a medication that should be introduced rectally during the seizure.
- Roll the child to their side (rolling to the left side is preferable).
When the seizure stops, try to lower the child's temperature by doing the following:
- Remove excess clothes.
- Use a sponge to apply lukewarm water. DO NOT use cold water as it will cause shivering and an increase in temperature.
- Give medicine to lower fever (e.g. Acetaminophen)
There is no evidence to prove that fever-reducing medicine will, in fact, prevent febrile convulsions. But it should be done regardless to make the child more comfortable.
You must call 911 if
- the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes.
- it is your child's first seizure.
- the child gets another seizure immediately after the initial one.
- the child cannot breathe well and is blue.
- the child gets injured.
Other Causes of Seizures in Children
Once your child is brought to the hospital, the doctor will assess them for any underlying pathology. Most of the time febrile seizures occur due to simple viral or bacterial infections. On certain occasions, it can be due to serious infections such as meningitis. Therefore, it's vital to see a doctor to get a proper diagnosis.
Seizures can also occur due to blockage of blood vessels supplying the brain, metabolic disorders, and epilepsy.
Usually, physicians try to find the cause of the fever by conducting blood tests, urine tests, a lumbar puncture, (collection of cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord) and an X-ray. CT scans, MRI scans, and EEG tests are not indicated in simple febrile seizures, but they can be done if relevant.
- Lissauer, T., Clayden, G., & Craft, A. (2012). Illustrated textbook of pediatrics. Edinburgh: Mosby.
- Baumann, R.J. Pediatric Febrile Seizures. (2017 November 28); retrieved from: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1176205-overview.