Febrile convulsions, also called febrile seizures, are apparently quite common yet when it happened to our family I was terrified. It came completely out of the blue; Amelia did not show any signs of being sick. She felt a bit warm before we put her in her cot for her afternoon nap but when I got her out of bed it was clear that she was not well.
Soon after picking her up, her head went back her limbs went out like a starfish and they started to shake. “Something’s not right” I said panicked. “Something’s wrong with her!” We called an ambulance. She had another seizure at home and two more at the hospital. I really can’t explain the experience any better than: It was the most terrifying ordeal of my life.
I wasn’t going to write this but I thought to myself perhaps if I had read something like this before it all happened, maybe I would be a bit more prepared. Of course, nothing will prepare you for seeing your child having a febrile convulsion but maybe I can arm another parent with a bit more information.
I really want to keep this post quite simple and just pop some answers to the big questions I had. I have taken the information about febrile convulsions from the following websites as I believe them to be trustworthy and they helped me with my research after what happened: The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network and The Epilepsy Foundation.
Obviously the following is for educational purposes only so please consult a doctor or healthcare professional in regards to your child.
What is a Febrile Convulsion?
A febrile convulsion is a seizure caused by a fever (a temperature above 38°C). It is caused by a burst of abnormal electrical activity in the brain where the nerve cells send ‘mixed-up’ signals to each other.
1 child in 30 will have a febrile convulsion, most often between the ages of 6 months and 6 years. They are not known to cause brain damage but are of course very upsetting for parents to witness.
There are a few different types of febrile seizures. If you want to know more you can read about them here.
What Happens During a Febrile Convulsion?
- The muscles may stiffen or jerk or the child can go floppy
- They may lose consciousness or stare unresponsively
- They may go red or blue in the face
What Do I Do if My Child has a Febrile Convulsion?
The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne suggests doing the following things during a febrile convulsion:
- Try to stay calm.
- Place your child on a soft surface laying on their side and do not try to restrain them.
- Do not put anything in their mouth. They won’t choke or swallow their tongue.
- Watch what happens so you can describe it to your healthcare professional later.
- Time how long the convulsion lasts.
I know first hand that this is difficult to do when suddenly thrown into this situation but now I know what to do I feel more confident.
The suggestions in regards to calling an ambulance are:
- If the convulsion lasts longer than 5 minutes
- Your child does not wake up or if they look very sick afterwards.
- If the convulsion stops in less than five minutes you should see your family doctor as soon as possible.
But you as the parent or guardian should make the decision as to whether or not you need to call an ambulance or visit hospital. Although Amelia’s febrile convulsions did not last longer than 5 minutes, we called an ambulance as it was the first time this has ever happened.
How Are Febrile Convulsions Treated?
To manage the fever, medicines like paracetamol or ibuprofen can be used. This will not prevent a seizure from happening or treat the infection that is causing the fever.
Most children will not require seizure medication but of course this is something that is assessed with each child.
What Happens in the Future?
Unfortunately, it can happen again. The Epilepsy Foundation states that with “children who have their first febrile seizure before their first birthday, half will have at least one more” and “children who are older than 1 year when the first seizure occurs, about 1 in 4 will have more’.
The Epilepsy Foundation also discuss the risks for a future Epilepsy diagnosis but the long term outlook is excellent with the vast majority not suffering with seizures without a fever after the age of 5.
Sitting in the hospital I wondered if I would ever not be anxious about this happening again. I wondered if I would ever not be ‘on edge’. I stayed awake the entire night with Amelia sleeping on my chest. With every twitch of her arm, I would hold my breath, worried it was happening again. But it didn’t.
The morning came, she slowly got better. We went home and relaxed in our own surroundings. She slowly returned to normal and after a week was back to her old self. I don’t know what the future holds but we’ll take each day as it comes and next time we’ll know exactly what to do.