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Fighting the fear of febrile seizures

A febrile (fever) seizure can be very scary for parents or caregivers, especially if you have never experienced one before. Fortunately, these types of seizures are typically harmless, but it is important to know what to do if it happens to your child. 

What is a febrile seizure?
A febrile seizure is a seizure that occurs in an otherwise healthy child who is sick with a fever. Most parents report that their child was ill with a cold or other mild illness and then suddenly began shaking. A febrile seizure is always accompanied by a fever. These seizures can occur in children between six months and five years of age, but most commonly occur in children 12-18 months of age.  

What causes a febrile seizure?
We don't know the reason some children get seizures with fever illnesses. It is likely a combination of a trigger (usually a virus) and a genetic disposition (febrile seizures often run in families).

What should I do if my child is having a seizure?
Make sure your child is in a safe location. If you child is on a couch or chair move him or her to the floor to prevent falls. Turn your child onto his or her side. Do not place anything in the mouth. Do not place your child in a bath or use rubbing alcohol on skin to try to reduce fever. Call 911 right away if the seizure lasts longer than five minutes, your child turns blue or has any trouble breathing. Thankfully, most febrile seizures last less than two minutes. 

Call your health care provider or bring you child in for evaluation right away. Only a doctor can determine if this event was a typical febrile seizure or if more testing needs to be done. 

What type of testing will my child need?
Most children will not need any specialty testing beyond a physical. Parents can help by giving information about how long the seizure lasted, what the seizure looked like and how their child was acting after the seizure. Some children may need additional testing – including most children under one year, children who are behind on vaccines, children who have abnormal exam findings or an unusual presentation of seizure.

Will my child have another seizure?
About 50 percent of children who have one febrile seizure will have a second occurrence. Reoccurrence is more likely in children who are younger than 15 months when the first seizure occurs. Generally, children will outgrow febrile seizures by five years of age.

Febrile seizures do not lead to epilepsy and do not cause brain damage. Some physicians recommend treating all fevers promptly with a children's Tylenol or Motrin to prevent future seizures; however, this has not been shown to decrease the risk of another seizure. Your child's doctor can help you create a plan that is best for your child.


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