Febrile seizures are convulsions that can happen when a young child has a fever above 100.4°F (38°C). (Febrile means "feverish.") The seizures usually last for a few minutes and stop on their own. The fever may continue for some time.
Febrile seizures can look serious, but most stop without treatment and don't cause other health problems. Some kids might feel sleepy after one, while others feel no lasting effects.
Who Gets Febrile Seizures?
Febrile (FEH-bryle) seizures happen in kids 6 months to 5 years old. They're most common in toddlers 12–18 months old.
Kids are more likely to have a febrile seizure if:
They have a family history of febrile seizures.
They've already had one. About 1 in every 3 kids who have had one febrile seizure will have another, usually within 1–2 years of the first.
They had a first febrile seizure when they were younger than 15 months old.
Most children outgrow having febrile seizures by the time they are 5 years old.
Febrile seizures are not considered epilepsy (seizure disorder). Kids who have a febrile seizure have only a slightly increased risk for developing epilepsy.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Febrile Seizures?
There are two types of febrile seizures:
Simple febrile seizures are most common. They're usually over in a few minutes, but in rare cases can last up to 15 minutes. During this type of seizure, a child may:
convulse, shake, and twitch all over
roll the eyes
become unconscious (pass out)
vomit or urinate (pee) during the convulsions
Complex febrile seizures last longer than 10 minutes, happen more than once in 24 hours, and involve movement or twitching of only one part or one side of the body.
What Causes Febrile Seizures?
No one knows why febrile seizures happen. But evidence suggests that they're linked to some and the way that a child's developing brain reacts to high fevers.
Gently place your child on the floor or the ground.
Remove any nearby objects.
Place your child on his or her side to prevent choking.
Loosen any clothing around the head and neck.
Watch for signs of breathing problems, including bluish color in the face.
Try to keep track of how long the seizure lasts.
If the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes, or your child turns blue, it may be a more serious type of seizure — call 911 right away.
It's also important to know what you should not do during a febrile seizure:
Do not try to hold or restrain your child.
Do not put anything in your child's mouth.
Do not try to give your child fever-reducing medicine.
Do not try to put your child into cool or lukewarm water to cool off.
When the seizure is over, call your doctor for an appointment to find the cause of the fever. The doctor will examine your child and ask you to describe the seizure. In most cases, no other treatment is needed. The doctor might order tests if your child is under 1 year old and had other symptoms, like vomiting or diarrhea.
The doctor may recommend the standard treatment for fevers, which is acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Giving these medicines around the clock is not recommended and won't prevent febrile seizures.
If your child has more than one or two febrile seizures that last more than 5 minutes, the doctor might prescribe an anti-seizure medicine to give at home.
When to Call 911
Get emergency medical care if your child:
has a febrile seizure that lasts longer than 5 minutes
the seizure involves only some parts of the body instead of the whole body
has trouble breathing or turns blue
isn't responding normally
has another seizure within 24 hours
had to take an anti-seizure medicine to make the seizure stop
A child who has missed getting some vaccines and has a febrile seizure could have a higher risk for meningitis. Get medical care right away if your child has any signs of meningitis, such as:
a stiff neck
a lot of vomiting
in babies, a bulging soft spot on the head
Febrile seizures can be scary to see. But they're fairly common and not usually a symptom of serious illness. If you have questions or concerns, talk with your doctor.