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Febrile Convulsions (fever fits) in children

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. ‘Convulsion’, ‘fit’ and ‘seizure’ all mean the same thing.

Watching your child have a febrile convulsion can be a very frightening experience. However, febrile convulsions are not as serious as they look.

What should I do if my child has another convulsion?Show [+]Hide [-]

 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. Wait for the convulsion to stop. If the convulsion lasts for more than five minutes phone 999 for an ambulance.

Dial 999 for an ambulance if your child becomes very drowsy, difficult to wake, is unresponsive or floppy.

What should I do if my child has a fever?Show [+]Hide [-]

  • Keep a regular check on the child’s temperature.
  • Keep the child cool – do not over-dress him or her and do not overheat the room.
  • Give the child plenty of fluids to drink.

If the child has a raised Paracetamol (Calpol) can be given. Ibuprofen, if recommended by the doctor or pharmacist, can be used to help bring down your child’s temperature if Paracetamol is not effective. It can be used by itself or in-between doses of Paracetamol. Ibuprofen should not be used in children with asthma or kidney disease. Always follow the instructions on the bottle and do not give more than four doses in 24 hours.

Does the child suffer discomfort or pain during the convulsion?Show [+]Hide [-]

No, the child is unaware of what is happening. 

The convulsion is much more disturbing for those who witness it than the child.

What brings on febrile convulsions and will they happen again?Show [+]Hide [-]

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. The risk of having another convulsion drops rapidly after the age of three.

Do febrile convulsions cause permanent brain damage?Show [+]Hide [-]

No, almost never.

Is it epilepsy?Show [+]Hide [-]

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.

Are febrile convulsions common?Show [+]Hide [-]

Yes. About one child in every 30 will have had one by the age of five years.

Is regular treatment with medicine necessary?Show [+]Hide [-]

No, regular treatment is hardly ever necessary.

More informationShow [+]Hide [-]

Who to contact:

  • You can contact your family doctor or GP.
  • Or you can take your child to the nearest walk-in centre.
  • You can also take your child to the nearest A&E Department.

You can get more details about febrile convulsions on the NHS Choices website.

You can also download the information on this page as a PDF leaflet.

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