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A febrile seizure is a fit or convulsion caused by a sudden change in your child's body temperature, and is usually associated with a fever (see our fact sheet Fever in children).
Febrile seizures may be alarming and upsetting to witness, but they are not harmful to your child. Even very long seizures lasting an hour or more almost never cause harm. Febrile seizures do not cause brain damage, and there is no increased risk of epilepsy in children who have had simple febrile seizures.
Most children with fever suffer only minor discomfort; however, one child in 30 will have a febrile seizure as a result of fever. Febrile seizures most commonly happen between the ages of six months and six years. Usually, children who have a febrile seizure will only ever have just one.
Treating a child’s fever with paracetamol or ibuprofen will not prevent a febrile seizure.
During a febrile seizure:
The seizure may last for several minutes. When the movements stop, your child will regain consciousness, but they will probably remain sleepy or irritated afterwards.
Usually, a febrile seizure happens if your child's temperature goes up suddenly. Sometimes, a seizure occurs before parents actually realise their child has a fever.
There is nothing you can do to make the seizure stop.
If your child’s febrile seizure lasts less than five minutes, make an appointment to see your GP as soon as possible to find out the cause of the fever that caused the seizure.
If the seizure was less than five minutes long and your child was very unwell before the seizure, take them to see your GP or visit to your nearest hospital emergency department immediately. It may be OK to take the child in your own car, but only do this if there are two adults – one to drive and one to look after the child. Drive very carefully. A few minutes longer will not make any important difference.
Call an ambulance immediately if:
Occasionally, children who have had a long seizure need to be watched in hospital for a while afterwards. This is usually to work out the cause of the fever and watch the course of your child's illness.
In most cases, you can look after your child at home after a doctor has seen them for a febrile seizure.
While most children will only ever have one febrile seizure, some children will have more than one seizure, usually during illnesses that cause a fever. Most children who have febrile seizures do not have any long-term health problems. They will normally grow out of them by the age of six.
If your child has repeated long seizures, it may be helpful to visit a general paediatrician (specialist children's doctor). Discuss this with your GP or hospital emergency department.
A fever is the body's natural response to infection, and it is not always necessary to reduce a fever. Treating your child’s fever with paracetamol or ibuprofen will not prevent a febrile seizure. However, if the fever is making your child miserable, you can help them to feel more comfortable by following the advice in our fact sheet Fever in children.
If my child has a febrile seizure, does that mean they have epilepsy?
No. Febrile seizure are fits or seizures that occur only with a fever. Children with epilepsy have repeated seizures without fever. Even if your child has many febrile seizure, it still does not mean they have epilepsy. Children who have simple febrile seizures do not have an increased risk of epilepsy.
Do febrile seizures cause brain damage?
No. No matter how dramatic and frightening febrile seizures may look, they do not cause brain damage. Even very long seizures lasting an hour or more almost never cause any harm.
If my child has one febrile seizure, will it happen again?
About one in three children will have more febrile seizures with future febrile illnesses. Your child will outgrow the tendency to have febrile seizures by the time they are about 6 years old. If your child has experienced a febrile seizure, it is important for you to learn what to do if your child does have another.
Can I prevent my child from getting a febrile seizure by giving them paracetamol or ibuprofen?
No. Even though these medicines may help to reduce a fever, if your child is going to have a febrile seizure, then it will happen. There is nothing you can do to prevent it.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital General Medicine, Emergency and Neurology departments, and Centre for Community Child Health. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed August 2019.
Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit www.rchfoundation.org.au.
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.