Febrile seizures, or seizures caused by a fever, do not cause epilepsy. But in certain circumstances, they may indicate that a child is more likely to develop epilepsy.
A febrile seizure is a childhood condition in which a fever triggers a seizure.
A seizure is a change in the brain’s electrical activity and may present in different ways. The child’s arms and legs may jerk and move, or the child may become rigid or unconscious. Febrile seizures can be quite common, occurring in 2% to 5% of all children.
Febrile seizures don’t cause epilepsy (a seizure disorder), but some types of febrile seizures may indicate a higher risk of developing epilepsy later in life.
Read on to learn about febrile seizures, what to do about them, and what you should know.
Children between the ages of 3 months and 5 or 6 years old may sometimes develop febrile seizures. These seizures happen when a child’s body temperature rises to a fever of
A seizure is a short change in regular brain activity. It can look like staring, losing consciousness, or uncontrolled movement of the arms and legs. Up to
Febrile seizures usually happen when there are no other neurological conditions that would cause seizures. Instead, a rise in body temperature triggers them, even if the fever doesn’t show up until after the episode.
Colds, the flu, or ear infections can sometimes cause a fever. Viral infections are often the cause, and seizure may be the first sign of an illness.
The outlook for children who have febrile seizures is positive, but contact a healthcare professional to rule out other underlying illnesses as a cause.
There are two types of febrile seizures, simple and complex.
Simple febrile seizures:
- last less than 15 minutes
- affect both sides of the body
- happen once in 24 hours
Complex febrile seizures:
- last longer than 15 minutes
- cause shaking on only one side
- happen more than once in 24 hours
A short, simple febrile seizure isn’t usually harmful. Febrile seizures are relatively common, and most kids don’t have any after age 5. However, some types of febrile seizures may increase the risk of epilepsy later in life.
What to do if your child is having a febrile seizure
It can be frightening when a child is having a febrile seizure. Here are steps you can take to help your child:
- Try to remain calm.
- Gently lay your child on a firm surface like the floor or ground.
- Carefully roll them on their side to help prevent choking.
- Check for signs of breathing.
- Notice the color of their face and skin.
- Keep track of how long the episode lasts.
- Call your child’s doctor or healthcare professional once the seizure has stopped.
CALL 911 OR SEEK EMERGENCY CARE IF:
- your child has difficulty breathing or appears to turn blue
- the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes
- the seizure affects only part of your child’s body rather than their whole body
- your child isn’t responding or acting as they normally would within a few minutes after the seizure has resolved
- your child has another seizure within 24 hours
Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes recurrent, unprovoked seizures. The condition is also called a seizure disorder.
Temporary conditions such as fevers don’t cause epilepsy. Epilepsy is most common in the first year of life (declining until 10 years old) and in people over 85 years old.
Some causes of epilepsy include:
- brain injury
- brain tumor
- central nervous system infection
- genetic disorders
Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders. About
Some types of febrile seizures can increase the risk of developing epilepsy later. Most children who experience them, though, do not go on to develop epilepsy.
Risk factors that may indicate an increased risk of developing epilepsy following febrile seizures include:
- having developmental delays before the febrile seizure
- having a complex febrile seizure that lasted longer than 15 minutes
- having more than one seizure in 24 hours
- having seizures that affect one side of the body
- having a family history of epilepsy
The greatest indication that a child may develop epilepsy after a febrile seizure is having one or more febrile seizures that last longer than 30 minutes.
Children who have a febrile seizure lasting longer than 30 minutes may have a
Symptoms of febrile seizures include:
- uncontrollable shaking of arms and legs
- still limbs
- rolling eyes
- possible loss of consciousness
Sometimes during a febrile seizure, a child may lose consciousness but not noticeably shake or move.
The main symptom of epilepsy is recurring seizures. If you have epilepsy, you may experience different types of seizures.
The seizures may cause a wide array of temporary symptoms, including:
- loss of consciousness
- loss of some body functions
- experiencing unusual smells or tastes
- random body movements
- jerking limbs
- loss of awareness of surroundings
During an evaluation after a febrile seizure, your healthcare professional will likely:
- listen to your description of the episode
- review your child’s medical history
- perform a physical exam
- possibly order tests to determine the cause of the fever.
Your child may be seen by a pediatric neurologist, a doctor who specializes in the treatment of the brain and neurological conditions like epilepsy in children.
If your child’s febrile seizure was prolonged, if the seizure began as a focal onset seizure, or if your neurologist or doctor is concerned about an underlying condition, other tests may be performed to help diagnose febrile seizures, including:
- Electroencephalography (EEG): An EEG is a measure of electrical activity in the brain.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI creates images of the brain using magnets and radio waves (no radiation).
- Lumbar puncture: Rarely, a lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, may be performed in younger children if a doctor thinks the child may have meningitis.
A healthcare professional may recommend hospitalization if your child:
- is younger than 6 months old
- has a serious infection
- had a very long seizure
A healthcare professional is not likely to prescribe medication for a child who has had a short febrile seizure but who seems otherwise healthy. However, it’s important to have your child evaluated to rule out other underlying causes for your child’s febrile seizure.
Your doctor may prescribe some medication if the seizure lasts longer than 15 minutes.
People who have epilepsy may require lifelong treatment. In some children with epilepsy, the condition may resolve as they mature.
Treatment likely will include antiseizure medication and possibly surgery, depending on the cause.
The outlook is favorable for most children who have a febrile seizure. Most recover without medication or any future problems. The vast majority only have one, and most children stop having them after age 5.
A long febrile seizure or more than one can increase the risk of developing epilepsy later in life.
For most children with no other risk factors, the chance of developing epilepsy is 1% to 2%, about the same as for children those who haven’t experienced a febrile seizure.
What’s the difference between febrile seizures and epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a disorder characterized by recurrent, unprovoked seizures. The seizures are not triggered by temporary causes such as fever.
Febrile seizures, however, happen when a child has a fever. They don’t usually happen again.
Do febrile seizures always lead to epilepsy?
Febrile seizures rarely cause lasting harm, and only a few types may slightly to moderately increase the risk of epilepsy.
Do febrile seizures cause brain damage?
Short febrile seizures
Even when the seizures last a long time, most children recover completely. In some cases, such as when the seizures last for a long time, part of the brain may be affected, so it’s essential to take your child to a healthcare professional.
Are febrile seizures considered a seizure disorder?
No, febrile seizures are not considered a type of seizure disorder.
Febrile seizures can sometimes happen when your child has a fever. Most are short, one-time occurrences and don’t affect your child long-term.
If a febrile seizure lasts for longer than 30 minutes, or if your child has repeated febrile seizures, it may indicate that your child is at an increased risk of developing epilepsy.
Epilepsy is a seizure disorder that can have many causes and results in seizures that recur. In general, epilepsy can be effectively treated and managed.
If your child has a febrile seizure, it may not be serious, but discuss the febrile seizure with your child’s healthcare professional. An evaluation can rule out other, underlying conditions and any possible long-term effects.