Why Febrile Seizures Occur

Usually When a Child's Temp is Over 102 Degrees

Febrile seizures are a type of seizure that can occur in children between six months and five years old during a fever. They are not caused another factor that can be identified. Although scary for parents, they are not harmful and do not cause brain damage. Most children who have a febrile seizure (95-98%) do not go on to develop a seizure disorder like epilepsy.

Young girl with a fever

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What They Look Like

A febrile seizure can last anywhere from a few seconds to 10 or even 15 minutes. Signs that your child is having a febrile seizure can be as minor as eyes rolling back in the head to stiffening or shaking of the entire body with loss of consciousness. Some children will be upset when the seizure stops and some will not. A seizure that lasts longer than 15 minutes or a seizure where only one part of the body is affected (like one arm or one leg), is concerning and the child will need to be more thoroughly evaluated.

When They Occur

No one knows for sure why febrile seizures happen in some children and not others and there is no way to predict whether or not your child will have one. They often have a hereditary component, so are more common in families where other family members have had febrile seizures. Most often they occur within the first 24 hours of a child's fever. They usually happen when a child's temperature is increasing at the fastest rate, often over 101 degrees F. However, they don't usually happen when the temperature is at its highest.

What to Do

If your child has a febrile seizure, do not attempt to restrain or hold her during the seizure. Although it is scary to see, the best thing to do is move anything away from her that could harm her and wait for the seizure to stop, then seek medical attention. Other things to remember:

  • Do not put anything in her mouth
  • Do not try to give her medication of any kind during the seizure
  • Do not try to put her in a bath to cool her off
  • Once the seizure is over (or if it hasn't stopped after a few minutes), contact your healthcare provider

Call 911 or seek medical attention immediately if:

  • The seizure does not stop after 5 minutes
  • Your child is having difficulty breathing or turns blue or gray
  • Your child is lethargic and not responding normally after the seizure
  • Your child appears dehydrated or has uncontrollable vomiting

What Happens Next?

There is no known way to prevent febrile seizures. Many healthcare providers will recommend treating fevers with fever-reducing medications (such as Tylenol or Motrin) but studies have not found that keeping the fever down with medications will prevent seizures. Only about a third of children who have one febrile seizure will go on to have another one. Most children "grow out of them" by age 5.

Most children who have febrile seizures will not need further testing, but if your health care provider has concerns about what caused it, he may recommend certain tests. If you have concerns or questions about febrile seizures, contact your healthcare provider.

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Article Sources
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  1. NIH National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Febrile seizures fact sheet. Updated March 16, 2020.

  2. Tasker RC, McClure RJ, Acerini CL, eds. Chapter 14: Neurology. In: Oxford Handbook of Paediatrics. OUP Oxford;506.

  3. Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital. Febrile seizures.

  4. Healthy Children from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Febrile seizures. Updated November 30, 2017.

Additional Reading
  • "Febrile Seizures". MedlinePlus 15 Aug 14. US National Library of Medicine. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health.
  • "Febrile Seizures". Sick Kids Jul 12. KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation.
  • "Febrile Seizures Fact Sheet". National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. 16 Apr 14. National Institutes of Health.