Febrile seizures are convulsions brought on by a fever in infants or small children. During a febrile seizure, a child often loses consciousness and shakes. Less commonly, a child becomes rigid or has twitches in only a portion of the body. Most febrile seizures last a minute or two; some can be as brief as a few seconds, while others last for more than 15 minutes. Approximately one in every 25 children will have at least one febrile seizure. Febrile seizures usually occur in children between the ages of 6 months and 3 years and are particularly common in toddlers. The older a child is when the first febrile seizure occurs, the less likely that child is to have more. A few factors appear to boost a child's risk of having recurrent febrile seizures, including young age (less than 15 months) during the first seizures, frequent fevers, and having immediate family members with a history of febrile seizures.
Is there any treatment?
A child who has a febrile seizure usually doesn't need to be hospitalized. If the seizure is prolonged or is accompanied by a serious infection, or if the source of the infection cannot be determined, a doctor may recommend that the child be hospitalized for observation. Prolonged daily use of oral anticonvulsants, such as phenobarbital or valproate, to prevent febrile seizures is usually not recommended because of their potential for side effects and questionable effectiveness for preventing such seizures.
What is the prognosis?
The vast majority of febrile seizures are short and harmless. There is no evidence that short febrile seizures cause brain damage. Certain children who have febrile seizures face an increased risk of developing epilepsy. These children include those who have cerebral palsy, delayed development, or other neurological abnormalities, or who have febrile seizures that are lengthy or affect only one part of the body.
What research is being done?
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) conducts research on seizures at its research center in Bethesda, Maryland, and through grants to major medical institutions across the country. NINDS-supported scientists are exploring what environmental and genetic risk factors make children susceptible to febrile seizures. Investigators continue to monitor the long-term impact that febrile seizures might have on intelligence, behavior, school achievement, and the development of epilepsy. Investigators also continue to explore which drugs can effectively treat or prevent febrile seizures.