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Febrile Seizures

Seeing your child have a seizure is one of the scariest things a parent can experience.  A febrile seizure is a seizure (or convulsions) in a child that is caused by a fever.  They occur in 2 to 4% of children under the age of 5, most commonly between 12 to 18 months of age.  

How Do I Know If My Child Is Having A Febrile Seizure?

The majority of febrile seizures occur on the first day your child is sick.  Sometimes it is even the first sign your child is unwell.  

Some of the signs of a febrile seizure include:

  • temperature above 38°C (100.4°F)
  • A stiff body and jerking movements of arms and legs
  • Eyes roll upwards
  • Loss of consciousness

Most febrile seizures only last a couple of minutes. Seizures that last over 15 minutes are considered complex and not febrile seizures.  Once the seizure is over, your child will return to normal though will likely be very tired or sleepy.  Let them rest.  

Risk Factors For Febrile Seizures

There are a few things that may put your child at higher risk for experiencing a febrile seizure.  Some studies have suggested that a higher temperature may increase the risk, but this is still debated.  Viral infections often cause higher fevers than bacterial infections.  An example of a viral infection that can cause high fevers is influenza.  

There is a very small risk that fevers associated with vaccinations may increase the risk for a febrile seizure.  Other influences may include genetics.  Febrile seizures often run in families.  

What Do I Do During A Seizure?

The most important thing to do is to stay calm

Place your child on a flat surface, laying on their side.  You don’t need to move them unless they are on an unsafe surface or near any hard or sharp objects.  Keep their head turned to the side and wipe away any vomit or saliva from their mouth.  Do not place an object between their teeth.  

Once the seizure is over, keep your child on their side.  Let them sleep if they are tired.  Contact your child’s doctor.  

What Happens After?

Febrile seizures will not harm your child.  They do not cause any neurological damage.  Your child’s doctor will probably want to examine your child after the event and determine the cause of the fever.  Your doctor will determine if the cause of the fever needs to be treated. 

Just because your child has a febrile seizure does not mean they will have epilepsy.  However they may be at higher risk of experiencing another febrile seizure again.  Your doctor will discuss this with you.  Treating a fever with acetaminophen or ibuprofen does not prevent a febrile seizure from occurring.  

This post was co-authored by Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP and Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc.

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