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Seizure: New with Unknown Cause (Child) 

Your child has had a seizure today. A seizure happens when a burst of random, uncontrolled electrical activity occurs in the brain. A seizure can have many causes. Often it’s not possible to figure out the exact cause of a seizure from a single exam. Your child might need other tests. Having a single seizure doesn’t mean that your child will continue to have seizures. It doesn't mean that your child has been diagnosed with epilepsy. But until healthcare providers know the cause of your child’s seizure, you should assume that another seizure is possible.

Home care

Follow these tips when caring for your child at home. For this seizure:

  • Seizures often aren’t predictable. Assume that a seizure could happen when you least expect it. Until the seizures are under good control, take these steps to keep your child safe:

    • Don't leave your child alone in a bathtub. If your child is old enough, use a shower instead.

    • Don't let your child swim, bike, or climb alone. Your child should not be in any situation where they would be unsafe if a seizure were to occur. This includes being in a high place (at the top of steps) or handling sharp objects.

    • Look around to see if there are ways to reduce the risk of injury if a seizure occurs. For example, glass tables or similar objects may pose a risk to someone having a seizure.

  • If medicine was prescribed to prevent seizures, give it exactly as directed. It does not work when taken "as needed." Missing doses will raise the risk of having another seizure.

For future seizures:

  • If you know that a seizure is coming on, hold your child. Or lay your child down on a bed or on the floor with something soft under their head. The best position is on their side, not on the back. This will let any saliva or vomit drain out of the mouth and not into the lungs. Be sure there are no objects around that might cause harm when your child shakes.

  • During a seizure the jaw often clenches tightly. Don’t try to force anything into your child’s mouth or try to hold his or her tongue. Don’t try to stop the jerking motions.

  • Almost all seizures stop in 30 seconds to 2 minutes. If your child is having a seizure that lasts longer than 5 minutes, call 911. Also call 911 if your child turns blue or stops breathing.

  • After the seizure, your child may be drowsy or confused. Don’t give your child anything to eat or drink until he or she is fully awake. Call 911 so your child can be looked at.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider.

  • Your child may need other tests to help figure out the cause of the seizure. These tests may include blood work, brain wave tests (EEG) or brain scans (MRI or CT scan).

  • Keep a seizure calendar to record how often your child has a seizure.

  • If your child is a teen being started on anti-seizure medicine and is old enough to get pregnant, make sure that she uses additional birth control. Seizure medicine can affect how well birth control pills work, and she could become pregnant.

  • Certain vitamins may be needed for females on seizure medicines.

  • Your child should also not have alcohol or illegal drugs.

  • To prevent seizures, it's important to have a regular sleep schedule with restful sleep of at least 6 to 8 hours. Sleep deprivation is known to trigger seizures.

  • Also take steps to prevent infection in your child. This can also trigger seizures.

If your child is old enough to drive, your state may require that a report of seizures is filed. Your child should not drive until the healthcare provider says it is safe.

Take a class on first aid and CPR. A class may help you feel better prepared for other seizures your child has. You can find a class near you by going to:

When to get medical advice

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Another seizure

  • Fever (See Fever and children, below)

  • Abnormal grouchiness, drowsiness, or confusion

  • Headache or neck pain that gets worse

Fever and children

Always use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Never use a mercury thermometer.

For babies and toddlers, be sure to use a rectal thermometer correctly. A rectal thermometer may accidentally poke a hole in (perforate) the rectum. It may also pass on germs from the stool. Always follow the product maker’s directions for proper use. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a rectal temperature, use another method. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which method you used to take your child’s temperature.

Here are guidelines for fever temperature. Ear temperatures aren’t accurate before 6 months of age. Don’t take an oral temperature until your child is at least 4 years old.

Baby under 3 months old:

  • Ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead (temporal artery) temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider.

  • Armpit temperature of 99°F (37.2°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider.

Child age 3 to 36 months:

  • Rectal, forehead (temporal artery), or ear temperature of 102°F (38.9°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider.

  • Armpit temperature of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider.

Child of any age:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider.

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under 2 years old. Or a fever that lasts for 3 days in a child 2 years or older.

© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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