Febrile Seizures: What to Know

Febrile Seizures

Fevers scare parents. We worry about how sick our children are and if that fever means something more serious. But for some kids, a rapid spike in fever can cause something called a febrile seizure. And although febrile seizures are usually not dangerous, they are certainly very scary. Keep reading to learn more about febrile seizures.

What is a febrile seizure?

Febrile seizures are seizures that happen when a young kiddo has a fever. Most febrile seizures are generalized which means that your child will lose consciousness and have jerking of arms and legs. Febrile seizures do NOT mean that your child has or will have a seizure disorder. (Epilepsy is considered when your kiddo has recurrent seizures that are NOT attributed to fevers.)

Most kids with febrile seizures are between 6 months and 5 years old. The peak age is around 2 years. They can happen to anyone. Most of these seizures are brief and last only a few minutes. (Although if it is happening to your kid, it will feel like eternity.) Up to 5% of children will experience a febrile seizure before their 5th birthday.

Will it happen again?

Maybe yes, and maybe no. Most kiddos who experience a febrile seizure will never have another one. But there are some risk factors for having recurrent seizures.

  • Less than 18 months when experience first febrile seizure
  • Family history of febrile seizures
  • Lower fever at time of seizure
  • Having a seizure as the FIRST sign of illness

What if my child has a febrile seizure?

Although febrile seizures are not usually dangerous, it is important to get your kiddo checked out. What you need to do depends on a few things.

The seizure is lasting more than 5 minutes…

If your child is having a seizure and it is lasting more than 5 minutes, you need to call 911. Although a prolonged seizure is not necessarily dangerous, your child needs an urgent evaluation and transport to the nearest hospital. The doctor will need to make sure what is causing the fever is not serious.

The seizure lasted less than 5 minutes…

If your child has a seizure lasting less than 5 minutes and seems ok now, they need to be checked out. Call your doctor and see how they would like you to proceed.  Many times, especially if the office is open, a trip to the ER isn’t necessary. But, your child does need to be checked out and the cause of the fever evaluated.

My child isn’t acting right…

If your child has a seizure that lasted less than 5 minutes, but they aren’t acting right, they need urgent medical attention. Call 911 for transport to the nearest hospital. Changes in mental status should always be taken very seriously.

My child had a seizure but they’re acting fine…

If your child had a seizure but they came out of it on their own and are now acting totally fine, call your pediatrician’s office to see how to proceed. They will need to be seen and many times, a trip to the ER is not necessary.

What do I do if my child is having a seizure?

If your child is actively seizing, there are thinks you can do to minimize the risk of injury.

  • Lower your child to the ground and lay them on their side or belly to decrease risk of choking
  • Move any nearby objects that your child could hit possibly injuring themselves
  • DO NOT attempt to put anything in your child’s mouth
  • Peak at your watch or nearest clock to see what time it is. If the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes, call 911
  • Once the seizure has ended, bring your kiddo in to the doctor to be evaluated

Where can I learn more about fevers and febrile seizures?

Luckily, there is a lot of information out there if you’d like to read more about febrile seizures.

Here is a great fact sheet from the NIH.

For information on what a fever is, you can read Fever: What it is and when to worry.

Author: Dr. Jenny Seawell

Dr. Jennifer Seawell is a board certified pediatrician currently practicing in Tennessee. She is married with 2 daughters aged 7 and 13.

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