Febrile Seizures: A Scary Side Effect of High Fevers in Children


It’s estimated that 1 in 25 children will have a febrile seizure. For parents, knowing what febrile seizures are, and what to do in the event your child has one, is important.

For starters, there are two types of febrile seizures: simple and complex. Simple is most common, and complex is vastly different from the former.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll stick to information on the simple febrile seizure.

If your child, usually under age 5, has experienced a febrile seizure, chances are you freaked out.

A child may lose consciousness and their arms or legs start shaking. When the child recovers, they may be too tired to even keep their eyes open, and their limbs may resemble wet noodles. It’s a terrifying situation for any parent.

Yet, the vast majority of these febrile seizures are harmless.

“It’s a common neurologic disorder with about 2 to 4 percent of kids younger than 5 experiencing them,” said Dr. Michael Visker, a pediatrician at Alewife Brook Community Pediatrics. “The biggest side effect from a simple febrile seizure is that children often don’t feel very well after they have them.”

Febrile is a word that means related to fever, and these seizures indeed are linked to a high temperature. They usually accompany a virus, influenza or otherwise, and kids sometimes have temperatures as high as 105.

But there are times the seizure happens before the illness sets in and before a high fever can give you a clue as to what’s happening.

“Sometimes the seizure is the first sign of the illness and this can be very scary for parents,” Dr. Visker said. “This is when you might end up in the emergency room and hear the word seizure. It’s very stressful.”  

A young child’s nervous system is under stress when a virus takes over. Sometimes the stress can be too taxing and a seizure is a response.

“It’s a confluence of things that come together,” Dr. Visker said.

About 40 percent of children who experience a febrile seizure will have another. But studies have shown children who have simple febrile seizures are not at more risk of developing other health problems later on.

“These simple episodes are not harmful,” Dr. Visker said.

Parents can also rest easy when it comes to the high temperatures they may see in their children.

“In most normal cases, a child’s fever will not get high enough to do harm,” he said. “Fevers get a very bad rap. They are the body’s natural response to try and rid the body of the virus.”  

For more information on febrile seizures or high fevers, talk with your child’s health care provider.

*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.

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