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Febrile Seizures: First With Kids - Vermont Children's Hospital, Fletcher Allen
Cooling Down Concerns about Febrile Seizures
Parents are often hot to ask me questions about convulsions or seizures that occur in the setting of fever so let me try to provide some helpful information.
Febrile seizures are a convulsion or a shaking and twitching of your child’s arms and legs in association with fever. They usually last for a few minutes, followed by a brief period of drowsiness. Febrile seizures occur in three or four percent of children from 6 months to 5 years of age, after which children outgrow them. They can run in families.
Although seizures can be a major concern to parents and be scary to witness, the vast majority have no lasting effects. Febrile seizures do not lead to brain damage, cerebral palsy, or developmental delay and will rarely if ever occur again unless the seizure is prolonged or affects only one side of the body.
Ninety-eight percent of children who experience a febrile seizure will not go on to have a seizure without fever or what we call epilepsy.
We are not sure what causes febrile seizures, although they may occur more frequently in children who are iron deficient.
If your child has a seizure for the first time, try to stay calm – scary though these may appear – and place your child on their side. Turn their head to the side to prevent choking. Also, you shouldn’t put anything in their mouth while the shaking occurs.
In the rarest of circumstances, your child may have some trouble breathing during a seizure and in this case you should call 911 for help. Medical attention should also be sought if a seizure persists for more than 10 minutes or your child is unresponsive and not coming around within a few minutes after the seizure has ended.
Even if a seizure stops by itself, it is a good idea to call your child’s health care provider who will probably recommend that your child be seen. Your child’s doctor will want to examine your child and possibly also do laboratory tests to determine the source of the fever, including any serious bacterial infection that would need an antibiotic.
Treatment will usually be directed to lowering the fever with acetaminophen or ibuprofen and sometimes using a medication to stop further shaking if it does not stop by itself.
It is rare that your child will need further anti-seizure medicines once the fever is gone. Febrile seizures either never occur again or will disappear by age five. Sometimes the use of anti-seizure medications can cause side effects if used on a long-term basis to the point where the risks may outweigh the benefits.
Hopefully tips like these will allow you to seize the opportunity to learn more and worry less about febrile seizures.
Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids.