About febrile seizures or febrile convulsions
A febrile seizure is a seizure that’s triggered by fever, which is a temperature higher than 38°C. The rapid rise in temperature triggers an abnormal electrical discharge in the brain.
Febrile seizures usually happen in children between 6 months and 6 years old.
Febrile seizures used to be called febrile convulsions.
It can be very frightening to see your child having a febrile seizure, but children usually recover completely from febrile seizures. Febrile seizures don’t cause long-term problems or brain damage.
Symptoms of febrile seizures
Symptoms of a febrile seizure 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 seizures last only a few minutes. Febrile seizures 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 seizure
Stay calm and remove any harmful objects so your child doesn’t injure themselves.
Watch exactly what happens, so you can describe it later. If you have a smartphone or camera, take a video of the seizure.
Time the febrile seizure.
Once the seizure has stopped, place your child on a soft surface, lying in the recovery position on their side to keep their airway open. Stay with your child and comfort them until they recover.
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 seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes.
Does your child need to see a doctor about febrile seizures?
Your child should see a GP or go to a hospital emergency department urgently if:
- it’s your child’s first febrile seizure
- your child has had a febrile seizure and hasn’t recovered fully after a short sleep
- you’re worried that your child has a serious illness that’s causing fever.
You know your child best, so trust your instincts if your child doesn’t seem well and you think they need urgent medical attention.
Tests after a febrile seizure
A child who’s had a febrile seizure 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.
If your child is under one year old and has had a febrile seizure that’s lasted more than 15 minutes or has a febrile seizure after immunisation, your doctor might refer you to a paediatrician for further checks.
Treatment for febrile seizures
In hospital, the medical staff will treat your child’s underlying condition, and send your child home when they’re better.
Your doctor might also give you an information sheet and emergency plan in case you need it in the future.
Prevention of febrile seizures
There’s no guaranteed way to prevent febrile seizures.
If your child has a lot of febrile seizures, your GP might refer you to a paediatrician or neurologist to consider antiseizure medicine. Children might need to take this medicine continually for several years to prevent seizures. But this is a rare treatment.
More about febrile seizures
About 3 in every 100 children have febrile seizures, and most of these children only ever have one febrile seizure.
Children who have their first febrile seizure before the age of one year or who have a family history of febrile seizures are more likely to have 2 or more febrile seizures. Febrile seizures tend to run in families and affect boys more than girls.
Epilepsy is when a child has or is at risk of having repeated, unpredictable seizures that are not triggered by fever. Children who’ve had a febrile seizure are slightly more likely to develop epilepsy than other children. There isn’t any way to reduce the risk of epilepsy after a febrile seizure.