When young children have a seizure (also called a convulsion), it is often caused by a fever above 102°F (38.9°C). These are called "fever seizures" or "febrile seizures." Febrile seizures can occur in children ages 6 months to 5 years, but are most common in toddlers ages 12 months to 18 months.
Febrile seizures are frightening, but they aren't as dangerous as they may appear.
Generally, febrile seizures aren't harmful to a child. A febrile seizure doesn't cause brain damage. Also, your child can't swallow his or her tongue during a seizure (it is physically impossible for someone to swallow his or her tongue). Febrile seizures usually last a few minutes. It's very unusual for a febrile seizure to last more than 5 minutes. Usually, a child who has had a febrile seizure does not need to be hospitalized and probably does not need X-rays or a brain wave test. Your child may only need to be seen by your family doctor so the cause of the fever can be found.
If your child has a febrile seizure, he or she may become unconscious and roll his or her eyes back. Your child’s arms and legs may become stiff or shake and twitch. Your child may also vomit. After a seizure, your child may feel drowsy and confused.
Call your doctor. He or she may want to see your child to find a cause for the fever.
Most children won't have another seizure. But the risk of another febrile seizure is slightly higher if your child is younger than 18 months, if there's a family history of febrile seizures or if the fever wasn't very high when the seizure occurred.
No. A single seizure does not mean your child has epilepsy. Even repeated febrile seizures aren't considered epilepsy, because children outgrow the risk of having a seizure caused by fever. A child who has epilepsy usually has 2 or more seizures that aren't caused by fever.
Febrile seizures don't cause epilepsy. But the chance of epilepsy developing in a child who has had several febrile seizures is slightly higher than if he or she didn't have a febrile seizure. The chance of epilepsy developing in a child who has had a febrile seizure is about 2% to 4%. There is no evidence that treating your child with medicine for febrile seizures will prevent epilepsy.
Maybe, but many doctors believe the risk of side effects from seizure medicines are worse than the child having another febrile seizure. Even if medicine is used, it may not prevent another seizure.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff