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Febrile convulsions

Your child has had a febrile convulsion

It is very frightening and distressing to see your child having a seizure. You may even have thought your child was dead or dying. Many parents think this when they first see a febrile convulsion.

We have produced this information resource so that you may know some facts about febrile convulsions.

What is a febrile convulsion?

It is an attack brought on by fever in a child usually between 6 months and 5 years of age.

A convulsion (also called a ‘fit’ or a ‘seizure’) is an attack in which the person becomes unconscious and usually stiff with jerking of the arms and legs. It is caused by a storm of electrical activity in the brain.

They are common — approximately 1 in 30 children will have a febrile convulsion by the age of 5 years.

They are usually harmless and almost all children make a complete recovery.

What causes febrile convulsions?

When children have a high temperature (above 38 degrees Celsius) or temperature goes up quickly, that can lead to a child having a febrile convulsion. Common causes of fever include viral illnesses which cause coughs and colds. Febrile convulsions can be more common if someone else in the family has had them before.
Approximately 1 in 3 children who have had a febrile convulsion may have further episodes in the future, although the chances decrease rapidly after the age of 3 years.

What should I do if my child has another convulsion?

  • Try to stay calm, remember convulsions are unlikely to cause your child any harm
  • Lay them on their side
  • Remove any objects that may cause injury
  • Put something soft under their head
  • Note the time the seizure started (write it down if you can without leaving your child)
  • Place anything in their mouth

Most febrile convulsions are short-lived but if it is lasting longer than 5 minutes call 999 or bring your child to the nearest Emergency Department.

If the convulsion stops within 5 minutes you don’t need to come to hospital unless:

  • it is the first time your child has had a convulsion
  • your child doesn’t recover quickly
  • they have injured themselves
  • you are concerned
  • they have a further convulsion soon after

Is it epilepsy?

No. The word epilepsy is applied to fits without fever, usually in older children or adults.

Febrile convulsions rarely lead to epilepsy. 99 out of 100 children who have had a febrile convulsion never have a convulsion after they reach school age and never have fits without fever.

Do febrile convulsions cause permanent brain damage?

Almost never. In a study of nearly 2000 American children who were examined carefully for evidence of permanent brain damage following febrile convulsions, no brain damage was found. It is thought that, very rarely, a child who has a long febrile convulsion, lasting for 30 mins or more, may suffer permanent damage from it.

Do children suffer discomfort or pain during a convulsion?

No. Children are unconscious and unaware of what is happening. The convulsion is more disturbing to you than your child.

What should I do if my child has a fever?

You can:

  • take their temperature with a thermometer
  • keep them cool
  • avoid over dressing your child or overheating the room
  • give them plenty of fluids to drink
  • give children’s paracetamol medicine, following the instructions on the bottle for the correct dose for your child’s age.
  • give children’s ibuprofen medicine if your child is still distressed 1 hour after the paracetamol dose (follow the instructions on the bottle for dose and frequency)

Seek medical attention if they do not improve.

Call 999 if they develop a rash that does not fade when a glass is pressed on it, you can not rouse them, or you are worried they are getting worse.

For more information on febrile convulsions here are some other resources you may find useful:

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

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