In the context of a prospective cohort study, we examined the associations between individual complex features of both first (n = 428) and recurrent (n = 240) febrile seizures and factors shown to predict outcome in children with febrile seizures. Thirty-five percent of first and 33% of recurrent febrile seizures had one or more complex features (focal onset, duration > or = 10 min, or multiple seizures during the illness episode). There were strong correlations between focality and prolonged duration for both first and recurrent febrile seizures. A low fever at the time of the seizure was marginally associated with prolonged duration. Most factors associated with either recurrent febrile seizures or subsequent unprovoked seizures were not associated with either the initial seizure being complex or the likelihood that a recurrence would be complex. However, the children with recurrent febrile seizures, complex features tended to repeat. This factor was statistically significant and particularly striking for prolonged duration. Genetic or other constitutional factors may explain why the prolonged feature recurs. Eleven (2.5%) children had three or four risk factors for recurrent febrile seizure that was prolonged. This very small group of children may be candidates for abortive therapy to be administered at the onset of a recurrent seizure.