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Febrile seizure


Disease: Febrile seizure Febrile seizure
Category: Neurological diseases

Disease Definition:

A febrile seizure occurs as a convulsion in young children, which is caused by a sudden spike in body temperature, often from an infection.
It could be alarming for parents to watch their child experience a febrile seizure and it may seem like an eternity but last only a few minutes.


However, these seizures aren’t as dangerous as they look. Usually, a seizure that is triggered by a sudden fever does not indicate a long-term or ongoing problem and is harmless. Febrile seizures mostly occur before the parents realize that their child is ill.


Good approaches for handling a febrile seizure include being sure that the child is safe during a seizure, offering comfort afterward and following up with a doctor’s visit.

Work Group:

Symptoms, Causes


The signs and symptoms of a febrile seizure can range from mild, such as rolling of the eyes, to more severe shaking or tightening of the muscles.


A child having a febrile seizure may experience some of these signs and symptoms:


  • Vomit
  • Lose urine
  • Cry or moan
  • Have trouble breathing
  • Lose consciousness
  • Roll his/her eyes back in the head
  • Shake or jerk the arms and legs on both sides of the body.
  • Have a fever that is usually higher than 38.9 C (102 F)


Febrile seizures are classified as simple or complex:

Simple febrile seizures:

This type lasts from a few seconds to ten minutes and stops on its own. The child may cry, act confused or be sleepy after the seizure. This type of febrile seizure is the most common type.

Complex febrile seizures:

Usually, this type of seizure lasts more than 15 minutes and occurs more than once within 24 hours or is confined to one side of the child’s body.


Usually, the severity of the signs and symptoms doesn’t necessarily reflect the level of the fever despite the fact that a febrile seizure is often caused by a rapid rise of the child’s temperature.


Even though a febrile seizure could develop as the child's fever is declining, but they usually occur due to a sudden increase in body temperature and during the first day of a fever.


In most cases, an infection in the child’s body causes the fevers that trigger febrile seizures:

Most common:

A middle ear infection or roseola, a viral infection that causes swollen lymph nodes usually in the neck, and a rash. All of these are typical childhood illnesses and are the most common cause of febrile seizures.

Less common:

An infection of a child’s brain and spinal cord (central nervous system), such as encephalitis or meningitis is a less common but very serious cause of a sudden fever with seizures.



After some common childhood immunizations, the risk of febrile seizures increases.
Children used to occasionally experience febrile seizures in the past on the day they received the DTP (diphtheria, tetanus and whole-cell pertussis) vaccination. Today, this vaccine is replaced with a newer version called DTaP. Low-grade fevers can occur after any childhood vaccine and febrile seizures might occur eight to 14 days after a measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccination in some rare cases.


When a febrile seizure occurs, it will be caused by the fever that could accompany the vaccination and not the vaccination itself.



Usually, most febrile seizures don’t produce any lasting effects, despite the fact that they may cause great fear and concern for parents. Any brain damage, mental retardation or learning disabilities aren’t caused by simple febrile seizures, and they usually don’t mean that the child has epilepsy, which is a seizure disorder or a more serious underlying disorder.


The odds are very small that after a febrile seizure the child will develop epilepsy. Only a small percentage of children who have a febrile seizure develop epilepsy, but not because of the febrile seizures. Sometimes, during fevers, children with epilepsy have their first seizures.



The possibility of more febrile seizures is the most common complications of febrile seizures. Almost a third of children who have a febrile seizure with a subsequent fever will have another one.


The risk of recurrence will be higher in case:


  • An immediate family member has a history of febrile seizures
  • The child had a low fever at the time of the first febrile seizure
  • The period between the start of the fever and the seizure was short


Yet another factor is that the younger the child is at the time of the first febrile seizure, the more likely he/she will have more seizures.


In order to stop a febrile seizure, it is not necessary to lower the child’s fever. For this reason, during a seizure, a parent shouldn’t give the child fever medications and shouldn’t place him/her in a cooling tub of water. Leaving the child lying on the carpet or a bed will be much more practical, comfortable and safe.


Within a couple of minutes, most febrile seizures stop on their own. Emergency medical care should be sought in case the child has repeated febrile seizures or has a febrile seizure that lasts more than five minutes.



In some rare cases, the seizure could continue until the child arrives at the emergency room. When this happens, in order to stop the seizure, the child will be given medication that is administered either through the rectum, or intravenously.


The child may need to stay at the hospital for further observation in case the seizure is prolonged, accompanied by a serious infection, or if the source of the infection can’t be determined. However, for simple febrile seizures, a hospital stay isn’t routinely necessary.


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Consultants Corner

Dr. Hani Najjar

Dr. Hani Najjar Pediatrics, Neurology

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