Febrile convulsions - fits caused by fever
fever; febrile; convulsion; fit; seizure; epilepsy ;
Febrile convulsions are common. They are frightening to watch, but:
- they cause no long term problems
- they do not cause brain damage, death or epilepsy
- they stop by 6 years of age.
is a febrile convulsion (fit)?
A febrile convulsion is a convulsion or fit that occurs when a child has a fever.
They occur in about 3% of children aged between 6 months and six years.
The fit is almost always very brief (less than 2 minutes) and does not cause your child any harm.
It is important to seek medical help if your child has a febrile convulsion to find out why the child has a fever and medical advice and treatment can be given.
Why do they occur?
It is possible for anyone to have a fit, but some people are more likely than others to have one. The brains of some infants and young children are very sensitive to rises in body temperature they may have a convulsion when they have a fever.
The fit usually occurs while the child's temperature is rising rapidly at the beginning of an illness and most often occurs on the first day of the illness. It may be the first sign that your child is unwell.
Children are more likely to have a febrile fit if others in the family have had some.
What do they look like?
When a child has a fit they become unconscious, unaware of their surroundings, their eyes may roll back and any part of their body may jerk or twitch. They may have difficulty breathing for a minute or so.
What do you do if your child has one?
- Lie your child on their side with their head in a neutral position. Never lie a person who is unconscious or having a fit, on their back.
- Do not put anything inside their mouth.
- Stay with your child during the convulsion.
- Do not give your child paracetamol or ibuprofen until your child is fully awake.
- Try to cool your child by removing outer clothing and putting a fan on (if available). Do not use ice or put your child into a bath. If your child starts to shiver cover him with a light sheet to slow down cooling.
- Seek medical help as soon as possible, eg. your local doctor or nearest hospital.
- If the convulsion does not stop within five minutes call an ambulance.
What should you do when it stops?
Your child may not wake up straight away so it is important to keep him/her lying on the side until fully awake.
Call an ambulance if your child does not wake within 20 - 30 minutes after the fit or if your child has more than one fit.
Will your child have another one?
Most children do not have more febrile convulsions; however some will (25-30%).
How do you prevent your child having one?
There is no sure way of preventing febrile convulsions. You could try to lower a child's temperature when she is unwell, but this may not prevent another convulsion. Often the fit happens before you know that a child has a fever.
- Undress your child down to nappy/underpants.
- Keep the child cool but do not allow shivering (cover your child's body with a sheet or light clothing if he starts to shiver).
- Give medicine to control fever.
- Do not place your child in a bath to bring her temperature down.
If your child has long febrile convulsions or has them often, your doctor may prescribe a medicine so they happen less often or to treat them when they occur.
Will your child get epilepsy?
Most children who have febrile convulsions do not get epilepsy, but some children with epilepsy may have convulsions when they develop a fever.
Medicines to control fever
Paracetamol is the best medicine for fever.
- Work out how much to give your child using the instructions on the bottle.
- Be careful – there are many different products containing different strengths of paracetamol – check the dose on the bottle each time you give your child paracetamol.
- You can give another dose 4 hours after the first dose. Do not give more than 5 doses in 24 hours.
- Some cough and cold products already contain paracetamol – so be careful when you work out whether to give paracetamol. If you are not sure, ask your pharmacist.
Ibuprofen (eg nurofen) is sometimes used to lower fever. Do not use both paracetamol and ibuprofen at the same time.
Ibuprofen should be taken with food if possible. Paracetamol is safer if your child has been vomiting and not drinking.
- Be careful: there are many different products containing different strengths of ibuprofen. Check the dose each time you give your child ibuprofen.
- Do not give more than 3 doses in 24 hours.
Paediatric Emergency Department, Women's and Children's Hospital, South Australia 'Febrile convulsions – guidelines for parents and caregivers' November 2008
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.