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Am Fam Physician. 2006;73(10):1765-1766

See related article on febrile seizures.

What are febrile seizures?

Febrile (say: FEB-rile) seizures are convulsions (severe shaking of the body) caused by a fever in infants and young children. During a febrile seizure, the child's arms and legs shake. Most febrile seizures last a minute or two, but they can range from a few seconds to more than 15 minutes.

Who gets febrile seizures and why?

Febrile seizures usually happen in children six months to five years of age. They are common in toddlers. Children rarely have a first febrile seizure before six months of age or after three years of age. The older a child is when the first febrile seizure happens, the less likely that child is to have more seizures.

How can my doctor tell if my child has had a febrile seizure?

Your doctor might order some blood and urine tests to be sure the seizures were not caused by something other than fever. If the tests are negative, a child who has a febrile seizure usually doesn't need to stay in the hospital. If the seizure lasts longer than 15 minutes or if your child also has a serious infection, he or she may need to stay in the hospital overnight.

What can I expect?

Although febrile seizures can be scary, most are harmless. During a seizure, there is a small chance that the child could get hurt by falling down or choking on food or saliva.

Febrile seizures don't cause brain damage. Children with febrile seizures often do fine in school and perform as well on IQ tests as their siblings who don't have seizures.

Some children who have febrile seizures will develop epilepsy (say: EP-il-ep-see). This is rare, but is more likely in children who have long febrile seizures, seizures that affect only part of the body, or more than one seizure within 24 hours. Children with cerebral palsy, delayed development, or other problems that affect the brain also are more likely to get epilepsy.

How can I prevent febrile seizures?

If your child has a fever, you can use fever-lowering drugs such as acetaminophen (Brand name: Children's Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Brand name: Advil, Children's Motrin) to make your child feel better. However, this medicine won't lower the risk of a seizure.

Using medicines in children older than six years to prevent febrile seizures usually is not recommended. They may cause side effects and may not work well for this type of seizure. Most children with febrile seizures do not need medicine. Some children may be treated with a medicine called diazepam (Brand name: Valium) when they have a fever to lower the risk of another febrile seizure. This medicine usually doesn't cause bad side effects, but sometimes it can make your child sleepy, hyperactive, or clumsy.

Where can I go for more information?

Your doctor

Epilepsy Foundation of America

National Institute of Neurological

Disorders and Stroke

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