Respiratory alkalosis in children with febrile seizures


Address correspondence to Sebastian Schuchmann, Department of Nephrology and Medical Intensive Care, Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Campus Virchow-Klinikum, Augustenburger Platz 1, 13353 Berlin, Germany. E-mail:


Purpose:  Febrile seizures (FS) are the most common type of convulsive events in children. FS are suggested to result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. However, the pathophysiologic mechanisms underlying FS remain unclear. Using an animal model of experimental FS, it was demonstrated that hyperthermia causes respiratory alkalosis with consequent brain alkalosis and seizures. Here we examine the acid–base status of children who were admitted to the hospital for FS. Children who were admitted because of gastroenteritis (GE), a condition known to promote acidosis, were examined to investigate a possible protective effect of acidosis against FS.

Methods:  We enrolled 433 age-matched children with similar levels of fever from two groups presented to the emergency department. One group was admitted for FS (n = 213) and the other for GE (n = 220). In the FS group, the etiology of fever was respiratory tract infection (74.2%), otitis media (7%), GE (7%), tonsillitis (4.2%), scarlet fever (2.3%) chickenpox (1.4%), urinary tract infection (1.4%), postvaccination reaction (0.9%), or unidentified (1.4%). In all patients, capillary pH and blood Pco2 were measured immediately on admission to the hospital.

Key Findings:  Respiratory alkalosis was found in children with FS (pH 7.46 ± 0.04, [mean ± standard deviation] Pco2 29.5 ± 5.5 mmHg), whereas a metabolic acidosis was seen in all children admitted for GE (pH 7.31 ± 0.03, Pco2 37.7 ± 4.3 mmHg; p < 0.001 for both parameters). No FS were observed in the latter group. A subgroup (n = 15; 7%) of the patients with FS had GE and, notably, their blood pH was more alkaline (pH 7.44 ± 0.04) than in the GE-admitted group. During the enrollment period, eight of the patients were admitted on separate occasions because of FS or GE. Consistent with the view that generation of FS requires a genetic susceptibility in addition to acute seizure triggering factors, each of these patients had an alkalotic blood pH when admitted because of FS, whereas they had an acidotic pH (and no FS) when admitted because of GE (pH 7.47 ± 0.05 vs. pH 7.33 ± 0.03, p < 0.005).

Significance:  The results show that FS are associated with a systemic respiratory alkalosis, irrespective of the severity of the underlying infection as indicated by the level of fever. The lack of FS in GE patients is attributable to low pH, which also explains the fact that children with a susceptibility to FS do not have seizures when they have GE-induced fever that is associated with acidosis. The present demonstration of a close link between FS and respiratory alkalosis may pave the way for further clinical studies and attempts to design novel therapies for the treatment of FS by controlling the systemic acid–base status.