Febrile seizures are a condition that affects children, generally infants and toddlers. This issue occurs when a young child has a fever and begins to experience convulsions. A febrile seizure can be quite distressing and will generally occur when a child’s body temperature spikes or rises suddenly.
Not all children who have fevers experience febrile seizures and they are more prevalent in children between the ages of 6 months up to 5 years. Low grade fevers do not usually cause febrile seizures. Most cases of febrile seizures occur when a child has an infection like the flu, a cold, or sometimes even bacterial infections like strep and have a fever of between 100.4°F (38°C) and 101°F (38.5°C) or higher.
While it is not certain why some children experience febrile seizures and others do not, viral infections are often the illness the precipitates the issue. Sometimes, children may also experience febrile seizures after receiving standard childhood immunizations.
Febrile seizures are often characterized by an uncontrollable convulsing of the body. They generally last just a few minutes and can involve the child losing consciousness. The arms and legs often spasm or shake uncontrollably as well.
There are also some symptoms of febrile seizures that do not occur often but are possible. These include limbs that become stiff or rigid and the loss of consciousness without any noticeable shaking or spasms. The shaking may also just occur on one side of the child’s body in some cases and a parent may notice that their child’s eyes roll back in their head if the eyes are open.
The root cause of febrile seizures is the high body temperature caused by fevers in children. These fevers may have a number of causes themselves, including viral and bacterial infections. The most common of these infections is influenza and roseola, but any infection that is accompanied by a high fever may cause the seizures. There is a small increased risk of experiencing febrile seizures after certain immunizations, as some may cause a fever in children which in turn causes the seizure. These immunizations include tetanus, diphtheria, and measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccinations. Risk factors and complications include fever at a young age and a family history that includes febrile seizures.
Luckily, febrile seizures do not usually cause permanent or long-term damage. However, treatment and examination by a physician is still important after a febrile seizure is over. Doctors will determine what caused the seizure and proceed with treatment based on that assessment.
If a seizure lasts more than 5 minutes or a child does not seem to recover properly after their seizure, immediate medical attention is needed. It is possible that a febrile seizure can occur due to meningitis, a serious and life-threatening infection of the spinal cord and brain that requires swift treatment. Treating the infection and closely monitoring the child are the best courses of treatment in any case of febrile seizures.
Prevention of febrile seizures can be difficult as the seizures are often the first indication of illness, with a low fever suddenly breaking higher after the initial seizure. The seizures most often occur in the initial hours of a fever and pass without lasting harm. The typical remedies for fevers, such as acetometophin, are recommended but will not prevent the seizures. For more frequent seizures or those that are longer in duration (more than 10 minutes), other prescription medication may be used to treat the condition. However, many of the medications have side effects that may potentially be more harmful to children than the seizures. Since certain vaccines have a link to causing the fevers that lead to febrile seizures, it can be said that forgoing these injections will prevent the seizures. However, this may not be the case as many of the diseases that the vaccines combat are also accompanied by high fevers that could cause the condition. Medical professionals will usually agree that in the risk assessment it is safer to take the small risk of the vaccine against the much larger risk of contracting the diseases they are meant to prevent.