Yesterday we shared a story about one mother's scary account of when her son had a febrile seizure. With the tragic death of Jett Travolta, we asked Dr. Cara to weigh in about the the common occurrence of a febrile seizure -- and what you need to know:
Febrile seizures are just what they sound like -- seizures that occur with fever. It is generally believed that the seizure is a function of the rate of rise of the fever (i.e. when the temperature rises quickly) rather than the height of the fever. In other words, if a child goes from 98 to 103 in 10 minutes, she can seize -- but it is much less common to have a seizure if the temperature is rising very gradually, even if it gets up to 105. There are no warning signs per se.
Other seizures happen for other reasons: infection of the brain or the meninges (fluid surrounding the brain) can cause seizures, very low blood sugar can cause seizures, bleeding in the brain can cause seizures, and so on.
Febrile seizures aren't really treated. But parents are advised to give fever reducers aggressively, usually at the first sign of fever, and to repeat them more regularly than they might if their child never had a febrile seizure. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is never given more than every four hours and ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) is never given more than every six hours; the dose of both depends upon a child's weight. Parents should speak with their doctors about this. The one other remedy to use cautiously is a lukewarm bath -- it works well to bring down fever if it is really lukewarm, but if it is cold then it can actually drive the fever higher.
There are usually no long-term consequences of febrile seizures, and kids outgrow them between five and six years of age. Once a child has had one, there is an increased risk for another. This is not a rare situation -- between 2-5% of all children have a febrile seizure.