Friday, August 24, 2007

A child dealing with his first seizures needs help from his parents...not an panic attack!

I was in grade school the first time I saw someone have a seizure, but I still remember it vividly. A girl in my class suddenly fell to the floor, shaking uncontrollably. It only lasted a few seconds, but it seemed much longer. My classmate recovered quickly, but it was completely unnerving. For a parent, watching your child have a seizure can be even more frightening.

Seizures are prompted by abnormal electrical impulses from the brain, often resulting in loss of consciousness and uncontrollable muscle spasms. There are a variety of possible precipitating causes, including tumors, infections or injuries. In some cases, no definite cause can be identified. In children, seizures due to fever are relatively common, affecting about one out of every 25 kids.
Febrile (fever) seizures primarily involve children from 6 months to 5 years old.

They are typically triggered by a rapid rise in body temperature, often in the early stages of an otherwise routine childhood infection. Sometimes the seizure is the first indication that your child even has a fever. The quick increase in fever appears to be the driving factor, rather than the actual height of the fever. This explains why some children have a seizure at a temperature of 102 degrees, while others may tolerate a fever of 105 without batting an eye.

A family history of febrile seizures increases your child's risk of having one. Children younger than 18 months are also at higher risk for seizure activity associated with fever, due to their immature neurological system. Current research studies are investigating the specific genetic and environmental factors that make some children more susceptible than others.

Fortunately, although febrile seizures are alarming for parents, they are usually quite harmless. There are a wide range of symptoms, including rolling eyes, stiffening limbs and generalized muscle contractions. Occasionally they are more focal in nature, and only one area (such as an arm) twitches.

Ordinarily, the seizure only lasts a minute or two, but in rare cases it may continue for 15 minutes or more.

During a seizure, keep your child on his side on a flat, safe surface, such as the floor, and carefully monitor his breathing. Despite what you may have heard, your child cannot swallow his tongue, so do not stick anything in his mouth. It's a choking hazard and can actually make things worse. It is normal to be drowsy or confused briefly after a seizure.

All children should be evaluated promptly after a first-time febrile seizure. Call 911 if the seizure lasts longer than five minutes or if your child has any trouble breathing. Otherwise, call your pediatrician and/or head to the emergency department to get checked out. It's important to make sure the fever and seizure are not symptoms of a more serious problem.

Uncomplicated fever seizures do not cause brain damage, and in otherwise normal children, the risk of developing a lifelong seizure disorder is very small.

About one-third of children who have one fever seizure will eventually have another. If the first seizure occurred at a young age and relatively low fever, your child is more likely to see a repeat.
In extreme cases, your doctor may prescribe medication for your child, but this is usually not necessary.

The best prevention is prompt attention to any future fever with Tylenol, ibuprofen and lots of fluids.
Fever seizures can be scary, but fortunately, most children completely outgrow febrile seizures by the age of 6, and as any mother can tell you, that time flies by before you know it.

Dr. Betsy Neahring practiced pediatrics in Evansville for 10 years before (mostly) retiring to become "Daniel's Mom." Write to her at


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