Fever-related seizures

A seizure, also called a convulsion, can be triggered by a fever. This is called a febrile seizure. Febrile seizures usually won't harm a child, but they can be very frightening for parents.

A child who is having a febrile seizure may roll his eyes, stiffen, and not respond when you speak to him. Sometimes the child may fall to the floor. His arms and legs may twitch violently.

About 1 in 25 children has at least one febrile seizure. Of these children, about 1 in 3 has more febrile seizure before outgrowing the tendency to have them.  

Febrile seizures usually occur early in an illness when the fever rises quickly. Examples of such illnesses are roseola, colds and stomach infection.

Most febrile seizures last less than one minute, though they may occasionally last up to 15 minutes. They usually occur only once during a 24-hour period and involve both the left and right sides of the body.

Other kinds of seizures (such as those associated with epilepsy) may last longer, happen more often, or affect only certain parts of the body. A child who has febrile seizures does not have epilepsy. But he may be at slightly higher risk of developing it than a child who has never had a febrile seizure.

Febrile seizures seem to run in families. Children who are under 12 months of age when they have their first febrile seizure have about a 50 percent chance of having another one with a future fever. In some cases, the health care provider may recommend medications to prevent additional febrile seizures.

If your child has a seizure:

  • Lay him on the bed or on the floor. Remove any hard or sharp objects from the area so he doesn't hurt himself.
  • Place him on his side or turn his head to the side. This will help prevent choking if the child vomits.
  • Do not place anything in the child's mouth.
  • Call your child's health care provider after the seizure ends. The provider will want to examine your child to rule out serious infections and other causes of seizures. If your provider isn't available, take your child to the emergency room.

Have someone call for emergency medical assistance while you stay with the child if:

  • The seizure lasts longer than two or three minutes
  • The child is having trouble breathing

To help prevent another seizure, keep your child's temperature down during an illness. Your child's provider may recommend infant's or children's acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) and sponge baths with lukewarm water.

If your child is sick or has a fever, avoid overdressing him. Your child's temperature may rise even more if he is wearing layers of warm clothes.

Last reviewed: December, 2013