Febrile Seizures: What To Do If Your Kid Has One

I’ll never forget the day my son had a febrile seizure. His body jerked back for a second, and then he became stiff and started shaking. I turned him on his side, trying not to panic, and yelled to my husband that we needed to call 911. The next 8 minutes were a blur. I felt impotent. Here I was, a pediatrician watching my child have a seizure, and there was nothing I could do but make sure he was as safe as possible. The seizure lasted 8 minutes. Perhaps the longest 8 minutes of my life. By the time we arrived at the ER he had developed a fever.

If your child has a febrile seizure like my child did, it’s important to know what to do to keep him (or her) safe. Here’s everything parents should know about febrile seizures.


What does a febrile seizure look like?

Children may have generalized rhythmic shaking or jerky movements of the whole body. Their eyes may roll back, and they may pass out. During the seizure, children can lose consciousness, turn blue, foam at the mouth, or urinate or defecate on themselves.

What are febrile seizures, exactly?

A seizure is abnormal discharges electrical activity in the brain. Febrile seizures are seizures that occur within 24 hours of having a fever. (A seizure occurs when there is abnormal electrical activity in the brain.) They happen in children between the ages of 3 months and 6 years, generally at the same time the child has a viral illness. Febrile seizure are divided into two groups:

1.Simple febrile seizures

The majority of febrile seizures fall into this category. In this case, a child will have a seizure that involves the whole body, lasts less than 15 minutes, and does occur again in the next 24 hours.

2. Complex febrile seizures

These seizures last longer than 15 minutes, and occur multiple times in 24 hours or are focal (meaning the shaking is limited to one part or one side of the body).

How can I help my child during a seizure?

  • Turn your child on her side on a soft, safe surface.
  • Do not place your child somewhere they can fall from.
  • Do not put anything into your child’s mouth or try to grab the tongue
  • Call 911 if this is your child’s first seizure, any seizure lasting greater than 5 minutes, or if you have concerns
  • Talk to your pediatrician right away; your child needs to be evaluated to rule out any significant illness that may have led to the seizure
  • Remain calm and observe your child. Pay attention to how long the seizure lasts.
  • Do not give oral medications while a child is seizing.
  • Do not restrain a child to stop the movements.

How often do febrile seizures occur?

It is estimated that 2 to 4 percent of children younger than 5-years-old will have a febrile seizure. Febrile seizures typically occur between the ages of 3 months and 6 years old. The most common age is between 1- to 2-years-old.

It is also important to know that there is a genetic predisposition to having febrile seizures. Therefore, if a parent had febrile seizures, it is more likely that their children will have febrile seizures.

Is it likely that my child will have a second febrile seizure if they have had a first?

About one third of children who have a febrile seizure will go on to have a second one. Children with a family history of febrile seizures are more likely to have more than one. In addition, children who have their first febrile seizure before the age of 1 are more likely to have recurrent febrile seizures.

Do febrile seizures cause brain damage?

While as a parent, it is very frightening to watch your child have a seizure, febrile seizures are considered benign events. Febrile seizures do not cause brain damage. Neurological deficits are very rare following febrile seizures and the long term prognosis is excellent. There is no evidence that children with simple febrile seizures go on to develop developmental or cognitive delays.

Do I need to take my child to a neurologist after a febrile seizure?

It is not usually necessary for children to see a neurologist after the first febrile seizure. Febrile seizures are a clinical diagnosis and don’t require specific testing. If your child has prolonged febrile seizures, seizures after age 6, or seizures that occur without fevers it is a good idea to see a pediatric neurologist. If you are concerned and think your child may require the care of a pediatric neurologist, consult your pediatrician.

Are febrile seizures a sign that my child has epilepsy?

Febrile seizures are not considered to be epilepsy. Children who have simple febrile seizure are only at a very slightly increased risk of developing epilepsy as compared with the general population. Children with febrile seizures that have complex febrile seizures, developmental delays, or a family history of epilepsy have about a 5 to 10 percent higher risk of developing epilepsy than their peers.

Does giving Tylenol or Motrin prevent febrile seizures?

Giving your child Tylenol or Motrin when sick will make them feel more comfortable; however, there is no evidence that giving medication to bring down fever prevents febrile seizures from occurring. This has been one of the harder things to wrap my mind around as a parent. While I know this information as a clinician, it is hard as a parent to know that there is nothing you can do to prevent a recurrent seizure.

Photo: Getty