Febrile fits – how can you help your child?

Did you know that around 1 in 20 youngsters are likely to have a febrile fit (also called a seizure or convulsion) before the age of 7 – and the risk increases if a family member has already had one?  Would you know what to do if this happened to your child?

“Keep calm,” counsels Dr David Sheasby, father of 3 and dedicated Concierge Medical private GP.  “A  febrile seizure can be frightening for any parent but the good news is that it’s generally harmless.  These practical tips will help you focus on how to help your child.”

1.          Know your family’s medical history

Susceptibility to febrile seizures can run in the family.  If one of your children has already had a febrile fit, there’s a 1 in 5 chance that another child will have a related convulsion.  If a sibling and a parent have both had one, the risk rises to 1 in 3. 

If you’re aware of any relevant family history, you can be more prepared for a child’s seizure.  But there’s nothing you can do to stop it happening, either!  Calpol or Ibuprofen may help to reduce temperature temporarily but shouldn’t be used to try to prevent a febrile fit.

2.          Understand what’s happening and why it’s happening

Febrile seizures are thought to be a response of the immature brain to fever.  They’re most common in children aged between 6 months to 6 years, who’re becoming more exposed to peer group infections.  Most are linked to viral infections which trigger a high temperature (38° plus, using a digital ear thermometer).  It’s important to record temperature accurately as this aids diagnosis as well as helping to assess risk of recurrence.

The most usual type is a “simple” seizure, where all the child’s limbs spasm and jerk.  This can be very shocking, especially if a parent isn’t prepared and is panicking.  Typically, though, it’s a short-lived single incident and the child is unconscious.

There are also less common types of convulsions, where only one part of the body is affected and/or the fit lasts for more than 10 minutes and/or multiple seizures occur.  These are likely to require treatment and are associated with a higher risk of recurrence.  Regardless of the eventual diagnosis, there are specific steps you can take to protect your child.

3.          What to do during and after a first febrile fit

  • Keep your child safe.  Although you may want to hug them, it’s best not to restrain them at all and let the fit run its course.  Try to protect them from harm by removing any nearby harmful objects or moving the child if necessary.  Don’t put anything in their mouth.
  • Call 999 for an emergency ambulance if the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes.  Don’t drive your child to hospital after the seizure has finished in case another one occurs in the car.  If the seizure lasts less than 5 minutes seek urgent medical advice.
  • Notice what time the convulsions start and end and record what’s happening, including checking their temperature when the seizure ends.  This will help you provide detailed information to the ambulance crew and doctors at the hospital, as well as your own doctor, and will help to diagnose the type of seizure (or seizures).
  • As soon as the fit ends, check your child’s airway and gently put your child in the recovery position.  The St John Ambulance website shows how to do this for babies as well as for older children.  
  • The hospital will advise you on what to do if another seizure happens and will correspond with your primary care doctor.  If you’re a Concierge Medical member, we’d like you to pick up the phone as soon as possible – whatever time of day or night – and we’ll make an appointment to come and see you in the comfort of your own home.

4.          What happens next

If your child has already had one or more fits, or convulsions lasting for more than 10 minutes, or there are other complications, you’re likely to need a more detailed medical management plan.  Even if your child, like most, only has a single short-lived seizure, Dr Sheasby advises you to discuss this further with your doctor for medical support and reassurance.  

Being able to speak to a familiar face who knows your family – and who won’t have to shoehorn your medical support and advice into a 10 minute appointment slot – makes a very real difference at times like these.  It’s the main reason we founded Concierge Medical, after all.  

Our expanding practice is now helping to keep our members’ families healthy throughout the Cotswolds, Warwickshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Worcestershire and Wiltshire.  Call us now on 01451 600900 to find out more about our family-centred private GP services and how we can help you and your children.   

Note: The advice in this article is provided as a practical guide to parents whose child may have a febrile seizure and should not be relied upon for medical diagnosis of any particular child’s condition.  Please follow the specific advice given by the hospital and your own doctor.