What to Know About Febrile Seizures

Febrile seizures are common and terrifying -- and they happen to one in 25 little kids. This is what's really going on when the brain short-circuits.
Febrile Seizures

Brian Maranan Pineda

My nerves are made of steel. Sure, I worry about the usual things, but it takes a lot to really rattle me. My daughter, Simone, was a preemie, and fellow preemie parents can attest that once you've dealt with ventilators and scalp IVs, the ordinary scrapes and tumbles barely register. But one night when my daughter was 2, my parental bravado evaporated.

Simone's nose had started to run, and she'd been feverish and cranky all afternoon. The beginning of a cold, I'd figured, but soon after she settled down for the night I noticed her skin had become searingly hot. As I rummaged in the nightstand for a thermometer, I heard her make an odd noise and turned to look. Her eyes were open and glazed, and her legs were jerking. She was having a febrile seizure. Although I'd known plenty of terror during our early days in the NICU, the next few minutes were easily the most frightening of my life.

"A seizure is very scary to witness," agrees Sucheta Joshi, M.D., a pediatric neurologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. "Many parents believe their child is dying." Waiting for an ambulance with Simone in my arms, that is exactly what I believed. "However, a typical -- or 'simple' -- febrile seizure does not harm the brain or development," says Dr. Joshi, who is an expert on seizures in children. In fact, febrile seizures are extremely common, especially among very young children: One in 25 kids will have one before the age of 5.

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