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Fever Seizures

Fever Seizures

Topic Overview

Fever seizures (sometimes called fever convulsions or febrile seizures) can occur in children who have a rapid increase in body temperature. You may not even know that your child has a fever. The rapid increase in body temperature in a short period of time may happen at the same time as the fever seizure. After a fever has reached a high temperature, the risk of a seizure is probably over. Most children who have a fever seizure have temperatures above 102°F (39°C).

A seizure is likely to be fever-related if:

  • There is one seizure in a 24-hour period.
  • The seizure lasted less than 15 minutes.
  • The seizure affected the entire body, not just one side of the body.
  • The child is between 6 months and 5 years old.
  • The child does not have nervous system (neurological) problems.
  • The child has had fever seizures before.

Fever seizures can be frightening but they are not usually harmful to the child and do not cause long-term problems, such as brain damage, intellectual disabilities , or learning problems.

Fever seizures affect 2% to 5% of children. Children can have another seizure. The chance of another fever seizure varies with age, but about 30% to 50% will have another within a year of the first one. These seizures are not a form of epilepsy .

A child who is having a seizure often loses consciousness and shakes, moving his or her arms and legs on both sides of the body. The child's eyes may roll back. The child may stop breathing for a few seconds and might also vomit, urinate, or pass stools. It is important to protect the child from injury during a seizure.

Fever seizures usually last 1 to 3 minutes. After the seizure, the child may be sleepy. You can let the child sleep, but check him or her frequently for changes in color or breathing, or for twitching arms or legs. The child also may seem confused after the seizure, but normal behavior and activity level should return within 60 minutes of the seizure.

Check your child's symptoms to decide if and when your child should see a doctor.

Check Your Symptoms

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Home Treatment

Protect your child from injury during a seizure:

  • Ease the child to the floor, or lay a very small child facedown on your lap. Do not restrain the child.
  • Turn the child onto his or her side, which will help clear the mouth of any vomit or saliva. This will help keep the tongue from blocking the air passage so the child can breathe. Keeping the head and chin forward (in the same position as when you sniff a flower) also will help keep the air passage open.
  • Loosen clothing.
  • Do not put anything in the child's mouth to prevent tongue-biting. This could cause injury.
  • Try to stay calm, which will help calm the child. Comfort the child with quiet, soothing talk.
  • Time the length of the seizure and pay close attention to the child's behavior during the seizure so you can describe it to your child's doctor.

Check your child for injuries after the seizure:

  • If the child is having trouble breathing, turn his or her head to the side and, using your finger, gently clear the mouth of any vomit or saliva to aid breathing.
  • If the child does not need to see a doctor right away, put him or her in a cool room to sleep. Sleepiness is common following a seizure. Check on the child often. Normal behavior and activity level should return within 60 minutes of the seizure.

If your child has had a fever seizure in the past and you have talked with your child's doctor about how to care for your child after a seizure, be sure to follow the doctor's instructions.

For home treatment of a fever, see the topic Fever, Age 11 and Younger.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:

  • Another seizure occurs with the same fever illness.
  • Other symptoms of illness develop, such as an infection.
  • Symptoms become more severe or frequent.

Prevention

The best way to prevent fevers is to reduce your child's exposure to infectious diseases. Hand-washing is the single most important prevention measure for people of all ages.

Preparing For Your Appointment

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

You may feel upset after seeing a fever seizure . Stay calm. You can help your child's doctor diagnose and treat your child's condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:

  • What is the history of the fever?
    • When did the fever start?
    • Did it come on suddenly or increase over several hours?
    • How high is the fever?
    • Does the child have any other symptoms?
  • Does your child have frequent fevers? How long do they usually last?
  • How was the child's health and behavior before the seizure?
  • Had the child had an accident or an injury before the seizure?
  • What happened during the seizure?
  • What kind of body movements were there?
  • How long did the seizure last?
  • How did the child act immediately after the seizure?
  • Have you noted any injuries from the seizure?
  • Has the child ever had a seizure before?
  • What other health problems, if any, has the child had over the past 3 months?
  • Has your child been eating, drinking, and playing normally?
  • What home treatment measures, including nonprescription medicines, have you used? Did they help?
  • Does your child have any health risks?

Ask your child's doctor what you can do to prevent another seizure and what to do if another seizure occurs.

Related Information

References

Other Works Consulted

  • American Academy of Pediatrics (2008). Clinical Practice Guideline for the Long-term Management of the Child With Simple Febrile Seizures. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised September 13, 2012

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