Febrile Fits in Young Children

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What are Febrile Fits?

A febrile fit is characterized by a sudden episode of convulsion, jerky movements of the limbs, up rolling eye ball and or drooling of saliva associated with a spike in body temperature. It is a diagnosis of exclusion after all infections have been ruled out. It is commonly seen among children of 6months of age to as old as 6 years. The prevalence is about 5% in the group of children.

It is crucial for caretakers to understand the symptoms of these fits and to carry out the basic first aid measures when needed. Essentially, this type of fit is only seen in children whose thermo regulatory system in the brain has not matured entirely. Thus, high temperature serves as a stressor to that immature regulatory system and hence leads to the electrical discharges that present as fits. Fits alone do not cause lasting effects like learning disability or mental retardation.

Risk Factors and Causes

Besides age which is the strongest risk factor, some studies reveal the association of febrile fits with family history of convulsion with fever. Researchers have identified few genes that could be responsible to febrile fits.

Spike in the body temperature always cautions the caretakers on the possibility of the child having an infection. This is the commonest cause of elevated body temperature. Infection in the upper respiratory, urinary tract as well as gastrointestinal tract could be the cause for fever. Unlike adult, symptoms for these infections may not be so obvious and therefore the accurate diagnosis demands some level of skill and clinical knowledge. Medical attention should be sought as early as the first convulsion associated with fever as the other causes of such conditions must be ruled out.

Alarming Symptoms

Most of these fits occur at high temperature of 38.9 C and above. The classical symptoms are shaky, jerky movements of the upper and lower limbs, stiffness of the arms and legs and up rolling of the eyes. It may cause difficulty in breathing as well as loss of consciousness.

Depending on its types, the fits can be of few seconds to 10mins (simple type) or can occur more than once within 24hours and each episodes lasts more than 15mins (complex type).

Keeping the Child Safe during Fits

Keeping in mind that the seizure is a sudden episodic attack for a brief period, the caretakers should remember the principle of first aid which is to ensure the child is not hurting himself. To achieve that, the child is to be placed at somewhere he is safe, unlikely to fall or be injured. Besides that, the child must be monitored to avoid him from reaching any sharp or hard objects near to him. It is also helpful to loosen his clothing but attempts to restrain his jerky movements by holding his hands and legs or to put anything into this mouth must be avoided.


  1. Clinical Review of Febrile Fits by Lynette G Sadleir,Ingrid E Scheffer

  2. CSK Guidelines (2006). Febrile Seizures

  3. Paediatrics: Febrile Seizures by Noorudin Tejani, MD

This post is part of the series: Febrile Fits in Young Children

Febrile fits are common occurences in young children between the ages of one and four, and may happen if the fever gets too high. This information is crucial for parents of young children, babysitters and caretakers of childcare centers and kindergartens to understand the symptoms of febrile fits an

  1. Febrile Fits in Young Children
  2. Febrile Fits - Medical Treatment, Prevention and Precaution