By Raising Children Network
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A febrile convulsion is a seizure or fit caused by a fever, usually in children aged six months to six years. A child having a febrile convulsion might stiffen, jerk her arms or legs and fall unconscious. Her eyes might roll back in her head. Most febrile convulsions aren’t serious, but you should see your GP if your child has one, or you think your child has had one.

What is a febrile convulsion?

A febrile convulsion is a seizure or fit that happens because of fever, which is a temperature higher than 38°C. The rapid rise in temperature causes an abnormal electrical discharge in the brain.

Febrile convulsions usually happen in children between six months and six years old.

It can be very frightening to see your child having a febrile convulsion, but children usually recover completely from febrile convulsions. Most febrile convulsions don’t cause long-term problems or brain damage either.

Symptoms of febrile convulsions

Symptoms of a febrile convulsion usually include:

  • body stiffness and/or jerky movements
  • loss of consciousness (blacking out)
  • eyes rolling back in the head
  • shallow breathing or altered breathing
  • deep sleep for an hour or so afterwards.

Most febrile convulsions don’t last longer than a few minutes. Febrile convulsions almost always stop by themselves before you get the chance to seek medical treatment.

What to do if you think your child is having a febrile convulsion

Stay calm and remove any harmful objects so your child doesn’t injure himself.

Watch exactly what happens, so you can describe it later. If you have a smartphone or camera, take a video of the convulsion.

Time the febrile convulsion. 

Once the convulsion has stopped, place your child on a soft surface, lying in the recovery position on her side to keep her airway open. Stay with her and give her reassurance.

Monitor your child’s breathing. If your child stops breathing, call an ambulance on 000 immediately and start CPR for babies or CPR for children over one year. Also phone 000 and ask for an ambulance if the febrile convulsion lasts longer than five minutes.

Does your child need to see a doctor about febrile convulsions?

Your child should see a GP or go to a hospital emergency department if:

  • it’s your child’s first febrile convulsion
  • you’re not sure whether your child has had a febrile convulsion
  • your child has febrile convulsions often.

Children don’t usually need to be admitted to hospital after a febrile convulsion, unless your GP is concerned about the condition that caused the fever – for example, pneumonia or meningitis.

If you take your child to hospital, medical staff will check your child out, treat the underlying condition, and send your child home when he’s back to normal. Your doctor might also give you an information sheet and emergency plan in case you need it in the future.

Tests after a febrile convulsion

A child who’s had a febrile convulsion probably won’t need tests.

Sometimes doctors might order blood or urine tests, or a chest X-ray, to work out what condition caused the fever.

Your child might be sent for an EEG if she’s having repeated febrile convulsions, but this won’t usually happen after a single febrile convulsion.

Prevention of febrile convulsions

There’s no guaranteed way to prevent febrile convulsions.

You can lower your child’s fever and make him more comfortable by using paracetamol or ibuprofen and taking off extra clothing. Sometimes a febrile convulsion will be the first sign of a fever. Paracetamol doesn’t reduce the risk of febrile convulsions.

If your child has a lot of febrile convulsions, your doctor might rarely consider prescribing anticonvulsant medication. Your child would need to take this medication continually for several years to prevent convulsions. But this is a rare treatment, which a paediatrician or paediatric neurologist would supervise.

More about febrile convulsions

Children generally only ever have one febrile convulsion. But children who have their first febrile convulsion before the age of one year are more likely to have another.

About 3 in every 100 children will have a febrile convulsion.

Febrile convulsions tend to run in families and affect boys more than girls.

Epilepsy is when a child has or is at risk of having repeated and unpredictable seizures. Healthy children who’ve had a febrile convulsion and who don’t have a family history of seizures aren’t any more likely to develop epilepsy than other children.
 
 
 
  • Last updated or reviewed 22-06-2018
  • Acknowledgements This article was reviewed by Associate Professor Gehan Roberts, paediatrician, Royal Children’s Hospital, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and University of Melbourne; and Dr Antoine Pinto, paediatrician, Melbourne Children’s Clinic.