What is… A febrile convulsion?

A febrile convulsion, also known as fever fits, are seizures that can sometimes happen to a child with a high temperature, generally above 39 degrees.

Febrile convulsions usually happen to children between the ages of six months and six years.

They are most common between the ages of one and five years, with the risk dropping once the child has started school.

Statistically, febrile convulsions will happen to one child in twenty before reaching school age.

One third of children who have had a febrile convulsion will have another during the same illness or in subsequent illnesses which feature high temperatures.

Though they can look like epileptic tonic-clonic fits, 99 per cent of children who have experienced this type of convulsion never have another fit once reaching school age.

As long as there is no family history of epilepsy it is unlikely to be an early warning sign.

Only 1.5 per cent of children who have a febrile convulsion will develop epilepsy.

Symptoms

There are two types of febrile convulsions:

Simple febrile convulsions, last for 15 minutes or less, mostly between one and five minutes in length. They do not reoccur during the same bout of illness. They account for 75 per cent of all febrile convulsions.

Complex febrile convulsions, last for more than 15 minutes with the child experiencing more during the same illness.

The majority of febrile convulsions happen on the first day of an illness and can be the very first sign that a child is ill.

A child may look hot because of a sudden onset of temperature.

Quickly, they can become dazed or even lose consciousness. They will fall down if they were standing up.

They may stop breathing for a short time and their skin may turn blue.

Some children will go limp and very still, but others will start to fit.

The child’s eyes will roll backwards and muscles in the body will start to shake.

They may also lose control of their bladder.

With complex febrile convulsions, only part of the body may twitch such as the face or one arm.

Some children may go into a very deep sleep afterwards but this is not always the case.

Generally, it will take 45 minutes to an hour for a child to become more themselves.

For parents who have no awareness of febrile convulsions, it will be incredibly terrifying but the event is not serious though medical attention will be needed.

What causes them?

Febrile convulsions can run in families so if a mother or father experienced a seizure during childhood, their own children are more likely to have them as well.

They occur when a child has an infection, these include:

Ear infections
Urine infections
Gastroenteritis
Respiratory tract infection
Viral infections such as flu

It is important to try and track down the cause of the fever and convulsion to rule out any possible serious illnesses such as meningitis and septicaemia.

What to do?

Firstly, it is important to remain calm.

Place the child into the recovery position. This means laying them on their side with their face turned to one side. Make sure the airway is open.

If the child is fitting, a carpeted floor away from hard objects is best. Do not try to restrain them.

Try to make a note of when the seizure starts and stops. If the fit lasts for less than five minutes make an emergency call to your GP.

If it lasts longer than five minutes, or your child stops breathing, dial 999 and ask for an ambulance.

If you are in any doubt either way, phone for an ambulance and keep an eye on the child’s breathing.

If the child has a high temperature, child paracetamol or ibuprofen are useful for lowering this. Always make sure you read the label.

Remove excess clothes and bedding, turn off the central heating and even open the windows no matter if it is snowing.