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Febrile convulsion - seizures in children

A febrile convulsion is a seizure, or a fit, that can happen when a child has a high temperature.

Although they can be frightening, febrile convulsions are not usually serious. Most children make a full recovery.

About 5 in every 100 children will have a febrile convulsion before they are 6 years old.

What it looks like

During a febrile convulsion, your child may:

  • become stiff and their arms and legs may begin to jerk
  • lose consciousness and may wet or soil themselves
  • foam at the mouth or vomit
  • turn blue
  • roll back their eyes

The febrile convulsion may last for several minutes. Afterwards your child may be sleepy and limp.

How to help your child

  • Note the time the convulsion starts and ends, so that you can tell how long it lasted.
  • Lie your child on one side with their head tilted back a little.
  • Put them in the recovery position if you know this. This makes sure that their airway stays clear and that your child will not swallow any vomit (puke or get sick).
  • Do not put anything in your child's mouth.
  • Do not try to restrain them or shake them.
  • When the seizure stops try to lower your child's temperature. Make sure the room is warm but remove outer layers of clothing.

Most convulsions will stop after a few minutes and don't need any treatment.

Bring your child to a paediatric emergency department (a hospital emergency department that treats children) for a check-up afterwards. Sometimes the cause of the high temperature may need treatment.

When to get urgent help

Contact an ambulance immediately by calling 112 or 999 if:

  • a seizure lasts for more than 5 minutes
  • another seizure begins soon after the first one ends
  • your child is having breathing difficulties
  • you think your child may have another serious illness like meningitis

Will it happen again?

Most children only ever have one convulsion. About one third of children will have another febrile convulsion in the future.

Causes of febrile convulsions

Any illness that can cause a fever in a child can cause a febrile convulsion. They happen with simple infections like colds, ear infections, chickenpox or tonsillitis. Febrile convulsions usually happen in the first 24 hours of an illness.

In very rare cases a febrile seizure can occur after a vaccination. This is very unlikely, and should not change your child's vaccination schedule. Talk to your GP about this if you are concerned.

Related topics

Your child's vaccines

How to check your child's temperature

page last reviewed: 17/09/2018
next review due: 17/09/2021