Febrile Convulsions (Fever Fits)
What is a febrile convulsion?
• A febrile convulsion is a fit brought on by fever in a child usually aged between six months and five years. During an episode the child becomes unconscious and usually stiff, with jerking of the arms and legs. It is caused by an increase of electrical activity in the brain. The words ‘convulsion’, ‘fit’ and ‘seizure’ all mean the same thing.
Your child has a febrile convulsion
• Watching your child have a febrile convulsion can be a very frightening experience – many parents think their child is either dead or dying when they first see a febrile convulsion. However, febrile convulsions are not as serious as they look.
Is regular treatment with tablets or medicine necessary?
• Regular treatment is hardly ever necessary.
Are febrile convulsions common?
• Yes. About one child in 30 will have had one by the age of five years.
Is it epilepsy?
No, epilepsy refers to fits without fever, usually in older children or adults. Convulsions rarely lead to epilepsy – 99 out of 100 children with febrile convulsions never have convulsions after they reach school age.
Do febrile convulsions cause permanent brain damage?
• Almost never. In nearly 2,000 American children who were examined carefully for evidence of permanent damage following febrile convulsions, none was found.
What brings on febrile convulsions and will they happen again?
• Any illness that causes a high temperature, usually a cold or other virus infection, may bring on a convulsion. There is a chance the convulsion will happen again – of 10 children who have a febrile convulsion and three or four will have more than one. The risk of having another drops rapidly after the age of three.
Does the child suffer discomfort or pain during the convulsion?
• No, the child is unconscious and unaware of what is happening. The convulsion is much more disturbing for those who witness it than the child.
What should I do if my child has a fever?
• You can take the temperature by placing the end of the thermometer under your child’s armpit for three minutes with their arm held against his or her side, or use a Feverscan.
• Keep the child cool – do not over-clothe him or her or overheat the room.
• Give the child plenty of fluids to drink.
• Give your child paracetamol medicine regularly (4 to 6 hourly, up to four times a day) if they feel hot or have a raised temperature. Follow the doses on the bottle or as recommended by the doctor.
• If recommended by the doctor or the pharmacist, ibuprofen can also be used to control the temperature, if paracetamol is not effective by itself. It can be given by itself or may be used with a dose of paracetamol or between doses of paracetamol. It should not be used in children with asthma or kidney disease and the manufacturer's dosage and instructions should always be followed.
If the child seems ill or has an earache or sore throat, take him or her to a doctor as other treatments, such as antibiotics, may be needed, but for most children with fever due to a virus infection, antibiotics are not necessary.
What should I do if my child has another convulsion?
• Lay the child on his or her side, with the head at the same level or slightly lower than the body. Take a note of the time – write it down if you can without leaving the child. It is usually not necessary to do anything else: do not try to place a gag in the child’s mouth or force anything into it, and do not slap or shake him or her. Just wait for the convulsion to stop.
• The hospital may give you some medicine called Diazepam. This should be given rectally by inserting it into your child's bottom. If the convulsion carries on for more than five minutes (by the clock) insert a five-milligram (mg) dose of the rectal Diazepam. This should stop the convulsions within five minutes. If it does not, take the child to hospital – dial 999 if necessary at this stage. In any event, let your doctor know what has happened.