Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
What is febrile seizure?
A febrile seizure is a seizure or convulsion which occurs during a high fever (febrile means 'having a fever'). These are common, and are not related to the seriousness of the cause of the fever. It affects children between the ages of 3 months to 5 years. During the seizure, the child may lose consciousness, roll their eyes back, and stiffen or twitch their limbs. Despite this seemingly unusual activity, treatment is often not required. Most children have no long-term consequences after a febrile seizure
Febrile seizures most commonly occur in children between the ages of 3 months and 5 years. Toddlers are most commonly affected. Often a viral illness, common cold, or other infection precedes or combines with febrile seizure. A febrile seizure is not necessarily a sign that the child is suffering from a serious illness.
The main symptom is a fit or convulsions which last less than 5 minutes while the child has a temperature of 38℃ or higher. The child may lose consciousness and roll their eyes back, while the arms and legs stiffen and twitch (convulse). There may be other symptoms, such as irregular breathing or vomiting. After the seizure, the child may be sleepy, even if they were completely awake before the seizure.
A doctor can usually diagnose a febrile seizure after hearing a description of the seizure and about the recent health of the child. If the cause of the fever is unknown, or if the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes, tests might be required to exclude conditions which could cause fever and seizures.
Febrile seizures usually pass quickly. It is important that the child is safe during the seizure, so may help to place them on a large bed, or on the floor, away from objects that they may hit. Turn them onto their side in the recovery position. There is no need to hold the child down during the seizure, and nothing should be put in their mouth. The duration of seizures should be measured and it lasts longer than 5 minutes with no signs of stopping, an ambulance should be called, or the child should be taken to hospital for review.
Treating fevers with paracetamol or ibuprofen may help to prevent some episodes of febrile seizure.
Other names for febrile seizure
- febrile convulsion
- fever cramps