Seizures are a frightening side effect of fevers that can occur in some children. “Febrile seizures” occur in 2 to 4 percent of children under age 5. Approximately one in every 25 children will have at least one febrile seizure, and some of them will have additional febrile seizures before they outgrow the tendency to have them. Febrile seizures tend to run in families and are more common in boys than girls. They may cause jerking movements in the body or look like “passing out.” Some children may feel sleepy afterward, and others feel no lasting effects.
While they are frightening, febrile seizures usually end without treatment and do not cause other health problems. For example, they do not mean that a child will have epilepsy or brain damage. A high fever can cause seizures, but they are usually caused by a sudden or rapid elevation in temperature, even if it is a small amount. Reducing fever does not prevent seizures, and most occur during the first day of a child’s fever. Children may have a febrile seizure before it is known that they have a fever. This type of seizure affects the entire body, not just one side.
If a child has a seizure, put the child on his or her side on a protected surface. Do NOT put anything in the child’s mouth. A person who is seizing cannot swallow their tongue and usually are breathing. Do not try to hold or restrain the child. These seizures normally last less than 5 minutes, some are as brief as a few seconds. If the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes, call 911. After the seizure is over, you may give the child fever-reducing medications, or put them in lukewarm water to cool them off.