Health Notes

Parent Panic Mode: The Top 6 Questions Every Parent Has About Febrile Seizures

by Dr. Emily Bendlin on September 27, 2016

sick child feverWatching a child have a seizure is a terrifying event for any parent. But when that seizure is accompanied by a fever, parents should be rest assured that seizure isn’t necessarily an indicator of a serious problem in their child.

A febrile seizure is one that happens to a child who has a fever and is between six months and six years of age. There are two types of febrile seizure:

Simple: The seizure lasts for less than five minutes, affects the entire body and only happens
once in a 24-hour period.

Complex: The seizure lasts longer than five minutes, may only affect one area of the body and may happen more than once in a 24-hour period.

Most febrile seizures are simple ones. These seizures don’t require a lot of medical tests, just education for parents about what they are and what to expect when a child has one. Most parents have lots of questions.

What do I need to do if my child has a febrile seizure?

  • Make sure the child is safe.
  • Clear anything that may harm the child out of the way.
  • Do not try to hold the child’s tongue.
  • Always contact a doctor after the seizure has completed just to make sure nothing else is wrong.
  • Make a plan with the child’s primary care provider ahead of time about what to do.
Dr. Emily Bendlin
Emily Bendlin, MD

Do the chances of a simple febrile seizure increase with a higher fever?

The old school of thought was the higher the fever, the greater chance the child would have a febrile seizure. But that’s not necessarily true. Some studies show it’s not how high the fever gets, it’s actually the rate of rise. So if a child goes from a temperature of 99 to 101 really quickly, that may put them at an increased risk of having a seizure. Other studies say we don’t really know what why febrile seizures happen, but the idea that they only accompany higher fevers is less accepted.

Is there something I can do to prevent a febrile seizure from happening?

Unfortunately, no. Health care providers used to recommend parents give around-the-clock Tylenol and ibuprofen to prevent the child’s temperature from increasing to prevent a seizure. but there have been a LOT of studies showing medication is not effective as a way to prevent febrile seizures. I recommend using Tylenol and ibuprofen only to treat a child’s discomfort. There have been many studies showing a child may be genetically disposed to having a seizure, but nothing can be done to stop one from happening. If a febrile seizure is going to happen, it’s going to happen.

If my child has a febrile seizure, are they at an increased risk of having another in the future?

Depending on what study you read, there is an up to 30 percent chance the child will have another febrile seizure again. That doesn’t mean they will have a seizure with every fever. In fact, most kids won’t ever have another. Parents should be reassured, most febrile seizures are not harmful and don’t have any long-term effects.

How do I know the difference between a simple febrile seizure and a more complex one?

Simple febrile seizures last less than five minutes, affect the whole body and the child only has one. A complex seizure lasts longer, affects just one part of the body and may happen multiple times with a 24-hour period. Complicated febrile seizures can indicate there is something more going on than can be managed with little intervention. Either way, with any type of febrile seizure, the child should be evaluated by a medical professional.

Does having a febrile seizure increase my child’s chance for epilepsy?

Depending on what study you read, there is a small chance – only around 1 to 2 percent  – the child will develop epilepsy in the future. Parents need to know that most of the time, febrile seizures resolve with age and there are no future, harmful effects. Once a child passes the age of six, we don’t anticipate they will have problems in the future.

Yes, febrile seizures can be very scary, but the most important thing to do is stay calm and provide a safe environment for your child. It’s also important to develop a good relationship with a Methodist Physicians Clinic primary care provider to develop a care plan in case one happens again.

If you are looking for a pediatrician you can trust, contact Methodist Physicians Clinic.

Dr. Emily Bendlin is a pediatrician now seeing patients at
Methodist Physicians Clinic Hawthorne Court.
Contact Dr. Bendlin at
Dr. Emily Bendlin


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