Febrile seizures are convulsions that can happen during a fever (febrile means "feverish"). They affect kids 3 months to 6 years old, and are most common in toddlers 12-18 months old. The seizures usually last for a few minutes and are accompanied by a fever above 100.4 F (38 C). While they can be frightening, febrile seizures usually end without treatment and don't cause other health problems. Having one doesn't mean that a child will have epilepsy or brain damage. The child may look strange for a few moments, then stiffen, twitch, and roll his eyes. He will be unresponsive for a short time, his breathing will be disturbed, and his skin may appear a little darker than usual. After the seizure, the child quickly returns to normal. Seizures usually last less than 1 minute but, although uncommon, can last for up to 15 minutes. Febrile seizures rarely happen more than once within a 24-hour period. Other kinds of seizures last longer, can affect only one part of the body, and may occur repeatedly. There are two types of febrile seizures Simple febrile seizures are usually over in a few minutes, but in rare cases they can last up to 15 minutes.
During this type of seizure, a child's whole body may convulse, shake, and twitch; his or her eyes may roll; and he or she may moan or become unconscious. Children can sometimes vomit or urinate (pee) on themselves during the convulsions. Complex febrile seizures can last more than 15 minutes or happen more than once in 24 hours. They may also involve movement or twitching of just one part of the body. Febrile seizures stop on their own, while the fever may continue for some time. Some kids might feel sleepy afterward; others feel no lasting effects.
No one knows why febrile seizures happen, although evidence suggests that they're linked to certain viruses and the way that some children's developing brains react to high fevers. Kids with a family history of febrile seizures are more likely to have one, and about 1 in every 3 kids who have had one seizure will have another (usually within the first 1-2 years of the first). Kids who are younger (under 15 months) when they have their first febrile seizure are also at higher risk for a future febrile seizure. Most children outgrow having febrile seizures by the time they are 5 years old.
Febrile seizures are not considered epilepsy (seizure disorder), and kids who've had one have only a slightly increased risk for developing epilepsy. A child who has a febrile seizure should be seen by a healthcare provider as soon as possible (in an emergency department or provider's office) to determine the cause of the fever. Some children, particularly those less than 12 months of age, may require testing to ensure that the fever is not related to meningitis, a serious infection of the lining of the brain. Treatment for prolonged seizures usually involves giving an antiseizure medication and monitoring the child's vital signs. If the seizure stops on its own, antiseizure medication is not required.