Fever-Induced Seizures Don't Harm Memory in Kids
July 9, 2001 -- While growing up just about every child will have a fever, and some will experience a very high one. For about 2-4% of kids under age 5, this high fever will lead to a febrile, or fever-induced seizure. Not only are these convulsion-like episodes scary for kids and their parents, they also have been linked to learning and memory problems as the child ages.
Now a new study says not only do kids with a history of febrile seizures appear to have no lasting effects, they may even outperform other kids, especially on memory tests.
The surprising findings come from a small study done by researchers in Taiwan that involved 87 school-aged children who had one or more febrile seizures before age 3 and another 87 children who did not.
The researchers say the results provide more support for the idea that febrile seizures are not harmful to the developing brain or any of its regions, such as the hippocampus, where memory skills are located.
Study author Chao-Ching Huang, MD, of the National Cheng Kung University College of Medicine in Tianan City, says as a group, the children with a history of febrile seizures "did not demonstrate any disadvantage" in their learning and memory and scored significantly better than the control group on all memory tests except one.
The study appears in the July 10 issue of Neurology.
But one expert says the notion that the seizures may actually improve memory is probably not so.
"While we're not convinced that [febrile seizures] are good for you, they at least don't appear to cause any harm," says Shlomo Shinnar, MD, PhD, a pediatric neurologist at Montefiore Medical Center at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
Tallie Z. Baram, MD, PhD, who along with Shinnar wrote an editorial accompanying the study, tells WebMD the study was small and therefore may not be representative of all kids with febrile seizures.
"I think the message is there doesn't seem to be short-term alteration in memory in youngsters with febrile seizures," says Baram, a professor of pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine. "But it also raises the issue that if you have the seizures early enough, all bets are off."
That's because kids who had febrile seizures before age 1 had more learning tasks problems and delayed recognition problems on the tests.
"This study does not comfort parents of children [who have febrile seizures] before 1 year of age," says Baram. "It doesn't necessarily prove that there is injury ... it simply shows that this is something we need to study a good deal more."
Another thing that still needs to be studied is whether prolonged febrile seizures -- lasting 15 minutes or longer -- cause more injury to the brain than shorter seizures. Baram says while it would seem likely that they would, it is also possible that a prolonged seizure at a very young age or multiple febrile seizures could cause an injury that is temporary or reversible. About one in six febrile seizures are prolonged, says Baram.