Febrile Seizures

Febrile seizures are convulsions brought on by a fever in infants or small children.

Approximately one in every 25 children will have at least one febrile seizure. Febrile seizures usually occur in children between the ages of 6 months and 3 years and are particularly common in toddlers.

During a febrile seizure, a child often loses consciousness and shakes. Less commonly, a child becomes rigid or has twitches in only a portion of the body. Most febrile seizures last a minute or two; some can be as brief as a few seconds, while others last for more than 15 minutes.

The older a child is when the first febrile seizure occurs, the less likely that child is to have more. A few factors appear to boost a child’s risk of having recurrent febrile seizures, including:

  • Young age during the first seizures – less than 15 months
  • Frequent fevers
  • Having immediate family members with a history of febrile seizures

The vast majority of febrile seizures are short and harmless. There is no evidence that short febrile seizures cause brain damage. Certain children who have febrile seizures face an increased risk of developing epilepsy. These children often have:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Delayed development
  • Other neurological abnormalities
  • Febrile seizures that are lengthy
  • Febrile seizures that affect only one part of the body

A child who has a febrile seizure usually doesn’t need to be hospitalized. If the seizure is prolonged or is accompanied by a serious infection, or if the source of the infection cannot be determined, a doctor may recommend that the child be hospitalized for observation. Prolonged daily use of oral anticonvulsants, such as phenobarbital or valproate, to prevent febrile seizures is usually not recommended because of their potential for side effects and questionable effectiveness for preventing such seizures.