Aftereffects of febrile seizure terrifying to parents


DEAR DR. ROACH: My son had a febrile seizure when he was a toddler. Immediately after the seizure, he became limp and unresponsive. This was the worst moment of my life, holding what I thought was my dying child in my arms. The doctor at the hospital later assured me that the sleepy unresponsiveness after a seizure is “normal.” Is that your experience as well? Perhaps knowing about this aspect of febrile seizures might save others from the trauma I went through. — B.A.

ANSWER: Witnessing a seizure is always profoundly disturbing, and it’s terrifying when it’s your child or loved one. We have the instinctual desire to want to do something, when in fact there usually is nothing to do except make sure the person having the seizure doesn’t hurt him- or herself, usually by falling. NEVER put anything into a person’s mouth; it’s not possible to swallow the tongue.

Another terrifying aspect is that during a seizure, people actually can stop breathing for a minute or two and turn blue. That minute or two may be the longest of your life if it’s your child. Turning the head gently to the side may help keep the airway open, but don’t attempt artificial respiration unless he or she continues not breathing after the seizure has stopped, in which case you should call 911. You also should call 911 if the seizure lasts more than five minutes, if another one comes on or if the person is injured during the seizure.

It is indeed very common to be confused or sleepy after a seizure. The person may go to sleep for hours, but the confusion usually lasts only 15 minutes or so. Do not attempt to give food or water until the person is fully awake and alert. First seizures always should be rapidly evaluated by a physician.

DEAR DR. ROACH: I just turned 80. I have been a regular blood donor for many years, and was surprised to learn my contribution was unacceptable because of lack of iron. I was called upon to give several times following, but with the same result. I mentioned it recently to an 85-year-old friend, who said he had the same problem and had started an iron pill regimen. I began taking 65 milligrams of iron two weeks ago. I didn’t feel any different, except that the constipation of many years is no longer a problem. I am grateful for this turnabout, and thought some of your elderly readers might be interested. — B.S.

ANSWER: There are a few “rules” you learn in medical school, and one of them is this: You should assume that any man with iron deficiency has colon cancer until you prove that isn’t the case. Before taking iron for iron-deficiency, you need to know why you are iron deficient. Cancer is what we fear most, but there are other causes of bleeding, including polyps. Discuss this possibility with your doctor.

A colonoscopy is the best test to determine why you might be losing blood (iron) through the GI tract. It isn’t appropriate for screening in an 80-year-old, but trying to find a cause for iron deficiency isn’t screening.

I also am surprised that iron cured your constipation. Most people find that taking iron induces constipation, and need to have some extra fiber in the diet to counteract it.

Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to [email protected] or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Health newsletters may be ordered from