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Sharp Health News

What is a febrile seizure?

May 2, 2017

What is a febrile seizure?

Kiana was four days shy of her first birthday when my husband found her unresponsive in her crib. It was after midnight, and thankfully, we both happened to still be awake. We heard a gurgling noise and went to check on her. He picked up Kiana, whose body had gone limp and lips turned blue, and urgently told me to call 911.

The 911 operator asked a series of questions and stayed on the phone until I heard the sirens coming down our street. By the time the first responders arrived, Kiana had regained consciousness although she stared at us with a dazed look.

The paramedic told us that it sounded like she had suffered a febrile seizure, something common for babies. However, it was the first time we had heard the term. The more people I shared our experience with, the more I learned that other friends and co-workers had gone through the same scare.

According to Dr. Veda Wu, a pediatrician with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, febrile seizures are the most common type of childhood seizures. They occur in approximately 2 to 5 percent of children between the ages of 6 months to 5 years old.

What causes a febrile seizure?
Causes of a febrile seizure are unknown but it is thought to be due to the way the developing brain reacts to a fever. There is also a genetic predisposition, as febrile seizures tend to run in families.

What are the signs of a febrile seizure?
During a febrile seizure, the whole body may stiffen and start twitching or shaking; the eyes may roll back; the child may moan; and there may be a loss of consciousness. The seizure usually lasts anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, and resolves on its own.

What should I do if my child is having a febrile seizure?
Stay calm and make sure your child is laying on a safe surface. Lay your child on his or her side to prevent choking. Monitor his or her breathing and color. Call 911 if your child is turning blue, has labored breathing or is having a seizure that is lasting longer than five minutes.

What should I do after my child has a febrile seizure?
You may give a fever reducer to make your child more comfortable. Keep a close eye on your child. He or she may be sleepy for an hour or so after the seizure.

When should I call my child’s doctor?
Dr. Wu recommends contacting your child’s doctor after a febrile seizure to help determine when and where the child should be seen. Your child may not necessarily need to be seen immediately after the seizure.

However, if the seizure lasted longer than five minutes or was more focal (shaking only on one side of the body), or if your child remains lethargic for longer than an hour after the seizure, has a severe headache or stiff neck, or has a second febrile seizure within 24 hours, he or she should be seen right away. If your child needs to be evaluated immediately after a febrile seizure, take him or her to an emergency room dedicated to pediatric care.

Can febrile seizures be prevented?
Unfortunately, febrile seizures cannot be prevented. Keeping your child’s temperature down with fever reducers does not necessarily prevent a febrile seizure from occurring. Nevertheless, many doctors will recommend giving a fever reducer for the first 48 hours of an illness if your child has had a prior febrile seizure.

Approximately a third of children with a history of a febrile seizure are at an increased risk of having another febrile seizure.

Are there any long-term effects of a febrile seizure?
Uncomplicated febrile seizures do not cause any long-term health problems. The vast majority of children stop having febrile seizures after the age of 5.

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