Fever Seizures

Topic Overview

Fever seizures (sometimes called fever convulsions) are uncontrolled muscle spasms that can occur in children who have a rapid increase in body temperature. You may not even know your child has a fever. The rapid increase in body temperature in a short period of time may cause the fever seizure. Once a fever has reached a high temperature, the risk of a seizure is probably over. Most children who have a fever seizure have temperatures above 102°F (39°C).

Fever seizures can be frightening but they are not usually harmful to the child and do not cause long-term problems, such as brain damage, intellectual disabilities, or learning problems.

Fever seizures affect 2% to 5% of children. Children can have another seizure. The chance of another fever seizure varies with age, but between 30% and 50% will have another within a year of the first one. These seizures are not a form of epilepsy.

A child who is having a seizure often loses consciousness and shakes, moving his or her arms and legs on both sides of the body. The child's eyes may roll back. The child may stop breathing for a few seconds and might also vomit, urinate, or pass stools. It is important to protect the child from injury during a seizure.

Fever seizures usually last 1 to 3 minutes. After the seizure, the child may be sleepy. You can let the child sleep, but check the child frequently for changes in color or breathing, or twitching arms or legs. The child also may seem confused after the seizure, but normal behavior and activity level should return within 60 minutes of the seizure.

A seizure is more likely to have been caused by a fever if the seizure occurred within 24 hours of the start of a fever. Fever seizures usually affect the whole body, not just one side. Most children have never had a fever seizure before and they also do not have other nervous system (neurologic) problems.

Use the Check Your Symptoms section to decide if and when your child should see a doctor.

Check Your Symptoms

Home Treatment

Protect your child from injury during a seizure:

  • Ease the child to the floor, or lay a very small child face down on your lap. Do not restrain the child.
  • Turn the child onto his or her side, which will help clear the mouth of any vomit or saliva. This will help keep the tongue from blocking the air passage so the child can breathe. Keeping the head and chin forward (in the same position as when you sniff a flower) also will help keep the air passage open.
  • Loosen clothing.
  • Do not put anything in the child's mouth to prevent tongue-biting. This could cause injury.
  • Try to stay calm, which will help calm the child. Comfort the child with quiet, soothing talk.
  • Time the length of the seizure and pay close attention to the child's behavior during the seizure so you can describe it to your health professional.

Check your child for injuries after the seizure:

  • If the child is having difficulty breathing, turn his or her head to the side and, using your finger, gently clear the mouth of any vomit or saliva to aid breathing.
  • For home treatment of a fever, see the topic Fever, Age 3 and Younger or Fever, Age 4 and Older.
  • If the child does not need to see a health professional right away, put him or her in a cool room to sleep. Sleepiness is common following a seizure. Check on the child often. Normal behavior and activity level should return within 60 minutes of the seizure.

If your child has had a fever seizure in the past and you have talked with your health professional about how to care for your child after a seizure, be sure to follow your health professional's instructions.

Symptoms to Watch For During Home Treatment

Use the Check Your Symptoms section to evaluate your symptoms if any of the following occur during home treatment:

  • Another seizure occurs with the same fever illness.
  • Other symptoms of illness develop, such as a cough.
  • Symptoms become more severe or frequent.

Prevention

The best way to prevent fevers is to reduce your child's exposure to infectious diseases. Hand-washing is the single most important prevention measure for people of all ages.

Preparing For Your Appointment

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

You may feel upset after seeing a fever seizure. Stay calm. You can help your child's health professional diagnose and treat your child's condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:

  • What is the history of the fever?
    • When did the fever start?
    • Did it come on suddenly or increase over several hours?
    • How high is the fever?
    • Does the child have any other symptoms?
  • Does your child have frequent fevers? How long do they usually last?
  • How was the child's health and behavior before the seizure?
  • Had the child had an accident or an injury before the seizure?
  • What happened during the seizure?
  • What kind of body movements were there?
  • How long did the seizure last?
  • How did the child act immediately after the seizure?
  • Have you noted any injuries from the seizure?
  • Has the child ever had a seizure before?
  • What other health problems, if any, has the child had over the past 3 months?
  • Has your child been eating, drinking, and playing normally?
  • What home treatment measures, including nonprescription medicines, have you used? Did they help?
  • Does your child have any health risks?

Ask your health professional what you can do to prevent another seizure and what to do if another seizure occurs.

Related Information

References

Other Works Consulted

  • American Academy of Pediatrics (2008). Clinical Practice Guideline for the Long-term Management of the Child With Simple Febrile Seizures. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.

Credits

Author Jan Nissl, RN, BS
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Tracy Landauer
Primary Medical Reviewer Michael J. Sexton, MD - Pediatrics
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Thomas Emmett Francoeur, MDCM, CSPQ, FRCPC - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Updated April 21, 2009

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