Febrile seizures are usually not life-threatening, according to a study of more than 55,000 children. “Parents should be reassured that death after febrile seizures is very rare, even in high-risk children,” the researchers conclude.

Led by Mogens Vestergaard, MD, of Aarhus University in Denmark, the researchers culled government records on 1.7 million Danes born between 1977 and 2004. During up to 28 years of follow-up, 232 deaths (0.42%) occurred among 55,215 children with a history of febrile seizures. A third of children had more than one episode.

Those who had “simple seizures,” which lasted <15 minutes and did not recur within 24 hours, had mortality rates similar to that of the general population. Those whose “complex seizures” lasted longer or recurred sooner had mortality rates twice as high as the general population in the two years after the incident. Then the mortality rates fell back to mirror the general population once again.

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“The excess mortality was at least partially due to pre-exisiting neurological abnormalities and subsequent epilepsy,” the authors note (Lancet. 2008;372:457-463). Besides, they emphasize, even at the doubled rate, the absolute risk is very small, with one death occurring per 1,500 children in the general population, compared with two deaths per 1,500 children who had had febrile seizures.