November 16, 2013

Cooling down concerns about febrile seizures

Parents are often hot to ask me questions about convulsions or seizures that occur in the setting of fever so let me try to provide some helpful information.

Febrile seizures are a convulsion or a shaking and twitching of your child’s arms and legs in association with fever. They usually last for a few minutes, followed by a brief period of drowsiness. Febrile seizures occur in 3 or 4 percent of children from 6 months to 5 years of age, after which children outgrow them. They can run in families.

Although seizures can be a major concern to parents and be scary to witness, the vast majority have no lasting effects. Febrile seizures do not lead to brain damage, cerebral palsy or developmental delay and will rarely, if ever, occur again unless the seizure is prolonged or affects only one side of the body.

Ninety-eight percent of children who experience a febrile seizure will not go on to have a seizure without fever or what we call epilepsy.

We are not sure what causes febrile seizures, although they may occur more frequently in children who are iron deficient.

If your child has a seizure for the first time, try to stay calm — scary though these may appear — and place your child on their side. Turn their head to the side to prevent choking. Also, you shouldn’t put anything in their mouth while the shaking occurs.

In the rarest of circumstances, your child may have some trouble breathing during a seizure, and in this case, you should call 911 for help. Medical attention should also be sought if a seizure persists for more than 10 minutes or your child is unresponsive and not coming around within a few minutes after the seizure has ended.

Even if a seizure stops by itself, it is a good idea to call your child’s health-care provider, who will probably recommend that your child be seen. Your child’s doctor will want to examine your child and possibly also do laboratory tests to determine the source of the fever, including any serious bacterial infection that would need an antibiotic.

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