Every Parent’s Guide: The Causes and Treatment of Febrile Seizures

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This article has been based on relevant and up-to-date scientific studies. Our writers are unbiased and objective and present the facts as they are known. Numbers in brackets within the article refer to sources included in the reference list at the end of the article.

Often confused with epilepsy, febrile seizures affect many infants and young children these days.

Unlike epilepsy that’s considered a seizure disorder, febrile seizures happen only during a fever, which typically comes from an infection. Infants and children (3 months to 6 years old) are more likely to have these convulsions when they suffer from an infectious illness.

Although febrile seizures usually last for a few minutes, they’re quite frightening and can lead to serious consequences. If your baby has a fever above 38°C (100.4°F), you should call a doctor immediately, because your child is at risk of getting febrile seizures. If you’re one of those lucky moms whose kids haven’t had febrile seizures yet, it’s still highly important to be aware of these dangerous convulsions.

What are the types of febrile seizures?

Children are prone to two kinds of febrile seizures: simple and complex. Simple febrile seizures usually last for a few minutes and in some cases for about 10-15 minutes.

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When your child has a simple form, they start shaking, convulsing, and twitching. Their eyes might roll and they might urinate or vomit during the convulsions.

Younger kids might begin to moan and those with a weak immunity and overall health might even become unconscious. Despite being a “simple” form of febrile seizures, these convulsions can still be harmful to your child’s health, so don’t sit and wait until they’re gone, call a doctor.

Complex febrile seizures must be treated immediately since they represent a danger to your baby’s life. These seizures happen several times a day or night and last up to 15 minutes. Your baby may move or twitch only one part of the body.

If your toddler is under 15 months of age, they may have a recurrent febrile seizure. It’s when simple and complex febrile seizures happen over and over again.

What are the major symptoms of febrile seizures?

The most common symptoms of febrile seizures to look for are:

  • Convulsions or twitching limbs happening in a rhythmic pattern;
  • Loss of consciousness;
  • Temporary weakness in one leg or arm;
  • No leg or arm weakness;
  • Tiredness or confusion after the seizures.
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The symptoms of the recurrent febrile seizures include:

  • Increased or slightly reduced temperature when compared with the first febrile seizure;
  • Frequent fevers;
  • Febrile seizures may happen a year after the first convulsions.

What does happen next?

Simple febrile seizures typically stop on their own, while complex ones require special medical treatment. The fever may stay the same, elevate, or lower, depending on the treatment your child will receive. Your little one may feel weak and sleepy after a febrile seizure, albeit some toddlers show no lasting negative effects at all. Many kids outgrow the febrile seizures by the time they turn 5 years old.

What are the major causes of febrile seizures?

There’s no scientifically proven evidence about what causes febrile seizures. However, they’re still linked to most viruses and infections, as well as the way your baby’s developing brain reacts to high fevers. But mostly the causes are the following:

  • Children with a family history of febrile seizures have a very high risk of experiencing the seizures;
  • A fever that comes from a bacterial infection or a virus can also cause febrile seizures;
  • Children who are suffering or suffered from roseola are more likely to have febrile seizures;
  • A fever that happens after immunizations, particularly the mumps measles rubella (MMR) immunization, is one of the main causes of febrile seizures. Your baby may have a high fever 8 to 14 days after an immunization.
  • Babies who are under 15 months and have already had their first febrile seizure are at the higher risk for the future febrile seizures.

Febrile seizure treatment

Even though febrile seizures don’t last for too long, it’s vital to take immediate actions to help your child survive the seizure. It’s also critically important to call a medical professional in the emergency department or your family doctor.

The doctor might give your child a lumbar puncture or a blood test to diagnose meningitis, which is a deadly serious disease that often affects babies younger than 1 year of age.

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If your baby has a serious infection like meningitis, hospitalization is required. If not, a doctor may not prescribe any medication for febrile seizures, unless they are recurrent febrile seizures.

What should I do when a febrile seizure happens?

Unfortunately, many moms lose control and fail to help their babies during febrile seizures.

First of all, you should stay calm and reassure yourself that everything is going to be okay. Stay close to your baby and ensure they’re on a safe surface so that they won’t fall down and hurt themself. It’s better to put your baby on the floor. Since children tend to have lots of saliva coming out of the mouths during febrile seizures, you must prevent choking by placing your child on their side.

Time the seizure and avoid restricting the movement of the twitching or convulsions. Even if there’s too much saliva, don’t put anything in your baby’s mouth. Watch for any color change in their face and any breathing problems. If your baby turns blue, the seizure lasts up to 5 minutes, get your child in the car and drive to the nearest hospital or call an emergency if you don’t have a car.

If your baby looks sluggish and dehydrated, isn’t responding normally, having breathing problems, or doesn’t go back to their normal behaviors for an hour or two after the seizure, it’s a reason to visit a hospital as well.

What shouldn’t I do when a febrile seizure happens?

When a febrile seizure happens, don’t try to restrain or hold your baby. Don’t give them any medicines and don’t put them on their bed during the convulsions or twitching.

Don’t put your baby in cold or lukewarm water to reduce the temperature as they can choke. Stick to the rules mentioned above and don’t panic. Most importantly, don’t give any antiseizure medications as they have terrible side effects, especially for infants.

What are the consequences of febrile seizures?

Occasional febrile seizures may not possess any health risk for your child. However, recurrent febrile seizures that happen each year or a few times a year increase a risk of your child having epilepsy later in life. That’s why it’s crucial to treat recurrent febrile seizures promptly and on a professional level.

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A great number of kids, including children with delayed development, cerebral palsy, or other neurological abnormalities have a higher risk of developing epilepsy later in life after febrile seizures.  Children with a family history of epilepsy are at greater risk, though. But even though febrile seizures might be more common in such kids, they might not contribute to the overall development of epilepsy.

Infants and children younger 3 years of age who experience a full body yet brief febrile seizure are a bit more likely to have epilepsy later in life than the children who never have febrile seizures.  Kids who experience a focal seizure (that’s a seizure that begins on one side of the baby’s brain), a febrile seizure that lasts over 10 minutes,  or several seizures that happen within 24 hours, have a slightly increased risk of developing epilepsy in comparison to babies who don’t have febrile seizures.

In rare cases, babies with highly prolonged febrile seizures that last up to 30 minutes have 30 to 40 percent higher risk of developing epilepsy than children with the seizures that last for about 5 minutes. Recent studies and reviews claim that prolonged febrile seizures can harm the hippocampus, which is a brain structure that may be involved with temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE).

Febrile seizures are scary for every mom, but remember that you must stay calm to help your child survive the seizure. Febrile seizures are very common and they don’t show any symptoms of serious disease. In many cases, febrile seizures don’t lead to any developmental or health issues. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk with your doctor. Even if the seizure stopped and your baby seems to feel good, it’s important to see a pediatrician to ensure your little one doesn’t have any consequences of febrile seizures.