PEDIATRICS Vol. 103 No. 6 June 1999, p. e86
Robert J. Baumann
Overview. Simple febrile seizures that occur in children ages 6 months to 5 years are common events with few adverse outcomes. Those who advocate therapy for this disorder have been concerned that such seizures lead to additional febrile seizures, to epilepsy, and perhaps even to brain injury. Moreover, they note the potential for such seizures to cause parental anxiety. We examined the literature to determine whether there was demonstrable benefit to the treatment of simple febrile seizures and whether such benefits exceeded the potential side effects and risks of therapy. The therapeutic approaches considered included continuous anticonvulsant therapies, intermittent therapy, or no anticonvulsant therapy.
Methods. This analysis focused on the neurologically healthy child between 6 months and 5 years of age whose seizure is brief (<15 minutes), generalized, and occurs only once during a 24-hour period during a fever.
Children whose seizures are attributable to a central nervous system infection and those who have had a previous afebrile seizure or central nervous system abnormality were excluded. A review of the current literature was conducted using articles obtained through searches in MEDLINE and additional databases. Articles were obtained following defined criteria and data abstracted using a standardized literature review form. Abstracted data were summarized into evidence tables (Tables 1 through 7).
Results. Epidemiologic studies demonstrate a high risk of recurrent febrile seizures but a low, though increased, risk of epilepsy. Other adverse outcomes either don't occur or occur so infrequently that their presence is not convincingly demonstrated by the available studies.
Although daily anticonvulsant therapy with phenobarbital or valproic acid is effective in decreasing recurrent febrile seizures, the risks and potential side effects of these medications outweigh this benefit.
No medication has been shown to prevent the future onset of recurrent afebrile seizures (epilepsy).
The use of intermittent diazepam with fever after an initial febrile seizure is likely to decrease the risk of another febrile seizure, but the rate of side effects is high although most families find the perceived benefits to be low.
Although antipyretic therapy has other benefits, it does not prevent additional simple febrile seizures.
Conclusions. The Febrile Seizures Subcommittee of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Quality Improvement used the results of this analysis to derive evidence-based recommendations for the treatment of simple febrile seizures. The outcomes anticipated as a result of the analysis and development of the practice guideline include: 1) to optimize practitioner understanding of the scientific basis for using or avoiding various proposed treatments for children with simple febrile seizures; 2) to improve the health of children with simple febrile seizures by avoiding therapies with high potential for side effects and no demonstrated ability to improve children's eventual outcomes; 3) to reduce costs by avoiding therapies that will not demonstrably improve children's long-term outcomes; and 4) to help the practitioner educate caregivers about the low risks associated with simple febrile seizures.
Key words: febrile seizures, epilepsy, valproic acid, carbamazepine, phenytoin, diazepam, phenobarbital, sodium valproate, pyridoxine.