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Febrile seizures affect about one in twenty children at some point during early childhood. It is most common between 6 months to 5 years of age. Febrile seizures are very frightening for parents, but it is also usually completely harmless. Fever chills are also common in young children and sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish fever chills from febrile seizures.
Febrile seizure – loss of consciousness
When a child experiences febrile seizures, they lose consciousness, often become stiff, and their eyes roll back. Arms and legs twitch or jerk and sometimes the child defecates or wets themselves. A parent’s immediate reaction is almost always, “my child is dying”. But the fact is, most seizures end spontaneously after 1-2 minutes.
If the seizures do not pass in 2 minutes – call an ambulance.
In most cases, the febrile seizures pass spontaneously. But if the seizure does not stop in 2 minutes, call emergency services 112. In these rare cases, it is useful to have the 112 nurse on the phone. They will tell you what to do and will send an ambulance to the scene with antispasmodic drugs.
Fever chills – shakes but still conscious.
Fever chills is when the child is conscious, you are able to make eye contact, but the arms and legs are shaking. It is the body’s way of increasing the body temperature during a fever. The body temperature increases for the muscles to generate heat as they work. Fever chills are not dangerous and is not a sign of a serious infection in children.
Fever in children – A Pediatrician’s guide
Children often get tired after a febrile seizure
After a febrile seizure, children usually become tired. The fatigue is called postictal fatigue and lasts for 1-2 hours. If your child is tired and not their normal selves after the seizure, go to the children’s emergency room for an assessment. It can be difficult to distinguish between a harmless infection, in which the child is experiencing postictal fatigue, from a serious brain infection (encephalitis) in which could have been the cause of the child’s seizures. If before the seizures, you had started to worry that your child was more sick than usual, then they really need to go in for an assessment.
If the child is completely themselves after a short febrile seizure and is not tired, then it is not necessary to go in for assessment. But most do it anyway because the experience was so terrifying.
Read more about meningitis in children
Antipyretic drugs do not help with febrile seizures.
Since the febrile seizures usually follow a fever, it has long been believed that antipyretic drugs, such as Advil or Ipren (ibuprofen), would reduce the risk of febrile seizures. However, robust research studies in which children who previously had febrile seizures were randomized to either receive high doses of antipyretics as soon as they had a fever or not receive any antipyretics, have shown that antipyretics do not affect the risk of new febrile seizures.
Antipyretic drugs are also painkillers, and are recommended to relieve pain in children or to arouse them slightly so that they can drink when they are sick.
Read more about acetaminophen and ibuprofen for children
Repeated febrile convulsions are uncommon
Of those who have febrile seizures, only seven out of ten have one seizure, and nine out of ten get no more than two febrile seizures. Single febrile convulsions in otherwise normal-developed children are not associated with any increased risk of epilepsy or any other diseases or injuries later in life.
The few children who have more than three febrile seizures, can sometimes have an epilepsy disorder. Therefore, it is recommended that anyone who has more than three febrile seizures conduct an investigation with the EEG and see a pediatrician.
Is there anything you can do to prevent febrile seizures?
Unfortunately, as a parent, you can’t do anything to prevent febrile seizures. As I said, antipyretic drugs do not help, nor do different methods of cooling. But it may be helpful to remember that most children never get a febrile seizure. Common febrile convulsions pass by themselves and do not cause any lasting harm to the child.
Fever in babies and children – what to do and when is the fever too high?
Meningitis in children – fever, neck stiffness, sore neck
Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen in children – dosage for pain and fever