Epilepsy Syndromes Febrile

The word “febrile” comes from the Latin word for “fever.” Febrile seizures are single, convulsive (tonic-clonic) seizures brought on by a fever. According to Epilepsy Action, febrile seizures are one of the most common types of childhood seizure, occurring in 2 to 5 percent of all children. Seizures typically occur in children between 6 months and 6 years of age, but are more prevalent before the age of 20 months.

Febrile seizures aren’t considered a true epilepsy syndrome because the seizures are provoked by fever, whereas epilepsy seizures are, by definition, unprovoked.

What Causes Febrile Seizures?

Any fever associated with a bacterial or viral infection can trigger a febrile seizure. On rare occasions, a fever induced by an immunization may provoke a seizure. Other possible risk factors may include:

  • Age (only young children experience febrile seizures)
  • Brain development (this may be a factor, as febrile seizures only occur within a certain stage of a child’s development)
  • Family history (febrile seizures tend to run in families).

What Do Febrile Seizures Look Like?

Among children, febrile seizures may vary slightly depending on the severity of the seizure. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Convulsions
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Eyes rolling back into the head
  • High fever
  • Loss of consciousness.

A febrile seizure typically occurs as your child’s temperature rises, but it can also occur as her temperature drops.

There are two types of febrile seizures:

  • Simple febrile seizures can last from a few seconds to up to 10 minutes. These are the most common types of febrile seizures.
  • Complex febrile seizures last for 15 minutes or more and/or occur in succession. This type of seizure is very rare.

What If My Child Has a Febrile Seizure?

Although febrile seizures are agonizing for a parent to watch, they do not usually cause your child any harm or require any treatment. If your child experiences a febrile seizure:

  • Lie him on his side on the bed or the floor
  • Do not put anything in his mouth
  • Wait for the seizure to stop
  • If it has not stopped after 5 minutes, call for emergency medical help
  • When it’s over, contact your pediatrician to schedule an appointment.

Even if your child experiences more than one febrile seizure, the likelihood that she will develop epilepsy later in life is still only 2 to 3 percent, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The risk is slightly higher if she:

  • Has a family history of epilepsy
  • Has a neurological abnormality (either since birth, from trauma, or as a result of a previous seizure)
  • Has had one or more complex febrile seizures.

Resources

Dekker, P.A. (2002). Epilepsy: A manual for medical and clinical officers in Africa. Retrieved March 10, 2010, from http://www.who.int/mental_health/media/en/639.pdf

Epilepsy Action Staff. (n.d.) Epilepsy syndromes. Retrieved March 20, 2010, from http://www.epilepsy.org.au/epilepsy_explained3.asp#special

Holmes, G. L. (2004). Febrile seizures. Retrieved March 20, 2010, from http://www.epilepsy.com/epilepsy/epilepsy_febrile

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2010). Febrile seizure. Retrieved March 20, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/febrile-seizure/DS00346

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (n.d.) Seizures and epilepsy: Hope through research. Retrieved March 11, 2010, from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/epilepsy/epilepsy.htm