Health conditions

Febrile convulsions

  • A febrile convulsion is a fit or seizure in children who have a sudden rise in temperature with an infection.
  • Febrile convulsions are common in childhood.
  • Call 000 for an ambulance if your child is having a convulsion that lasts longer than 5 minutes.
  • Take your child to the Emergency Department or your family GP to work out the cause of the fever.

One in 20 to 30 otherwise healthy children will experience a febrile convulsion between the ages of 6 months to 5 years of age.

Children who have febrile convulsions have no evidence of brain damage.

There is no increased risk of epilepsy in children who have simple febrile convulsions. For children who experience a complex febrile convulsion, there is a slightly higher chance of developing epilepsy.

Giving paracetamol or ibuprofen for a fever will not prevent a febrile convulsion.

What causes febrile convulsions?

They are thought to occur because the brains of babies and children are more sensitive to fever than those of adults. Usually the infections that cause the fever are mild, like an ear infection or a cold, but sometimes the fever may be caused by a more serious infection.

What are the signs and symptoms?

During a febrile convulsion, your child may:

  • lose consciousness for a brief period
  • jerk, twitch, become stiff or go floppy
  • go blue or red in the face.

Convulsions usually only last a few minutes, and afterwards your child may be very sleepy and irritable.

How are they treated?

Parents and care givers will often find it understandably distressing to see their child having a convulsion. It is important to try and stay calm to ensure you can keep your child safe and get help if you need to.

If your child has a febrile convulsion:

  • try to stay calm
  • lay your child on his or her side and lift the chin gently to clear the airway
  • note the duration of the seizure
  • when the convulsion stops, take your child to the Emergency Department or your family GP if the seizure lasted less than 5 minutes and your child is alert
  • ensure there are 2 adults in the car, one to drive and one to look after your child.

Do not:

  • restrain your child during the convulsion
  • put anything in your child’s mouth including your fingers
  • put a convulsing child in a bath
  • use a cool bath or compress to reduce the fever.
Can they be prevented?

Unfortunately there is no evidence that giving paracetamol or ibuprofen will prevent febrile convulsions.

Most children who have had one febrile convulsion will not have another, but about 1 in 3 children who have had one febrile convulsion will have another, usually within one year.

What is a complex febrile convulsion?

A complex febrile convulsion is when the convulsion:

  • lasts more than 15 minutes
  • may involve a particular part or side of the body
  • may involve more than one convulsion in 24 hours.

If your child experiences a complex febrile convulsion, your child may need to stay in hospital for more tests.

Where to get help

Most febrile convulsions will not last longer than 5 minutes, and there is no specific treatment for the convulsion. Your child’s doctor will want to work out why your child has a fever, and may do some further tests to decide if your child will need any treatment for the cause of the fever.

Call 000 for an ambulance if your child develops any of the following:

  • if the convulsion lasts longer than 5 minutes
  • it is your child’s first convulsion
  • the convulsion happened in water and your child has trouble breathing
  • your child also has a head injury
  • breathing does not return to normal shortly after the convulsion or he or she is blue around the lips, ears, nose or fingertips
  • does not respond to you after the convulsion has stopped
  • you are unsure if your child is safe and recovering normally after the convulsion
  • you are concerned for any other reason.

Acknowledgements

Public Health


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

See also

Link to HealthyWA Facebook page