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Febrile Convulsions - Information for parents/carers

Patient information A-Z

What is a febrile convulsion?

Febrile convulsions are also known as febrile fits or fever seizures. They can be very concerning and very upsetting for parents and caregivers to witness.

They can occur in children who have a rapid increase in body temperature and may be the first sign of a child developing a fever. During a febrile convulsion you may witness the child to have abnormal breathing, jerking movements or become stiff. Sometimes they will become blue or froth at the mouth. Usually this lasts only for less than five minutes.

After this the patient will often be lethargic and clingy and will take a while to recover.

What causes a febrile convulsion?

Any illness that causes a high temperature can cause a febrile convulsion. Most occur with common illnesses such as ear infections, coughs, colds and other viral infections. Serious infections such as pneumonia, kidney infections or meningitis, are much less common causes.

How common are febrile convulsions?

About 5 in 100 children have a febrile convulsion some time before their 6th birthday. They most commonly occur between the ages of six months and five years. They are rare in children aged under three months and over the age of six years.

Approximately 4 out of 10 children who experience one febrile seizure will have a recurrence.

Having a febrile convulsion does not mean that your child has epilepsy. However, there is a slightly higher risk that your child may develop epilepsy at a later date (1 in 500).

What should be done for a child having a febrile convulsion?

It is important that parents and caretakers remain calm and carefully observe the child. If the child is having a febrile convulsion, parents and caregivers should do the following:

  • Move the patient away from any furniture or other dangerous items which could injure them. Do not restrain them or hold the child during a convulsion.
  • Position the child on his or her side to prevent choking. If possible, gently remove any objects from the child’s mouth. Do not place anything in the child’s mouth during a convulsion.
  • If the convulsion continues for more than five minutes call 999.
  • After the seizure you should observe the child and make sure they recover well – if you are concerned you should call 111 or the ambulance service. It would be prudent to have your child seen by a doctor the same day.

Can anything be done to prevent a further convulsion happening?

About one third of children who have had a febrile seizure will have another one during a subsequent infection. This often happens within one year of a first one. Recurrence is more likely if the first seizure happened before your child was 18 months old, or if there is a history of seizures or epilepsy in your family.

It is not generally recommended to give your child a prescription for regular medication to prevent further febrile seizures as the associated side effects far outweigh the benefits of the seizures themselves.

Research has also shown that using medication to control fever such as paracetamol (Calpol®) or ibuprofen (Nurofen®) does not prevent further febrile convulsions. It should only be given if it improves other symptoms of the illness i.e. muscle aches and pains.

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Cambridge University Hospitals
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