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Cooling Vests for MS: Benefits, Uses, and More

Updated on July 27, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Joseph V. Campellone, M.D.
Article written by
Victoria Menard

Many people with multiple sclerosis (MS) are sensitive to heat. In fact, even a quarter- or half-degree change in core body temperature can temporarily worsen MS symptoms. To stay comfortable and prevent flares, many people with MS turn to cooling vests.

Cooling vests can be worn under your clothing or on top of it to help you cool down in the heat. As one MyMSTeam member wrote, “I have been using a cooling vest for about three years, and it helps me a lot.”

What Are Cooling Vests?

When people with MS feel overheated, they can experience worse symptoms, including heightened fatigue, vision changes (a condition known as Uhthoff’s phenomenon), and other issues.

Specialized cooling clothes can help those with MS cope with the heat and avoid heat stress. Often specifically made for people with MS, these garments contain a gel-like substance that can be chilled before use and provide cooling effects for several hours or days. Cooling garments come in a variety of forms, including neck wraps, bandanas, hats, and wristbands.

Cooling vests, in particular, provide more cooling power than gel-lined clothing. These feature battery-powered cold packs that keep your torso cool. Because cooling vests are often designed for athletes, they usually stay cool and comfortable even during vigorous physical activity.

Different Types of Cooling Vests

Cooling vests come in many different forms, including those that cover the entire torso and those that cool just a portion of the midsection. There are also two different types of cooling that these vests offer: active cooling and passive cooling. Each type of cooling provides different benefits. Some people with MS prefer one type over the other, and others use the two in different situations and for different needs.

Active Cooling

Active cooling vests work by relying on electrical or battery power to deliver cooling to the wearer. These vests use active cooling to deliver strong, continuous cooling power. Some even help decrease the body’s core temperature. These types are more expensive than passive cooling vests — typically starting at around $150, although prices can exceed $2,000, depending on the model.

Passive Cooling

Vests that use passive cooling via gel packs provide more short-term cooling therapy than active vests (generally, between 30 minutes and four hours). However, they are more portable and lightweight, as their cooling packs do not rely on an external power source. They are also less expensive, typically starting around the $30 price point.

Benefits of Cooling Vests for MS

Cooling vests have several benefits for people with MS. Aside from keeping the wearer comfortable during daily activities, they may also increase a person’s stamina and help prevent fatigue.

Exercise

A small-scale study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology compared the benefits of cooling vests to those of a sham (fake) vest that used menthol to provide the sensation of cooling. According to the study, the participants were able to walk around 35 percent longer and 45 percent farther than those who wore the sham vests. Those who wore the cooling vests also reported feeling their cooling effects at the end of the trial, while those in the sham vests did not.

Everyday Activities

Some MyMSTeam members have shared that cooling vests are particularly helpful during physical activity. As one wrote, “I used my cooling vest last summer to be outside with my family, BBQs, and playing with the dogs and horses! Also, I was able to go to a parade! I love my cooling vest! It kept me active last summer!”

Those who wear cooling vests also share that they help maintain overall comfort, especially during hot days. Some wear several cooling garments at once, like one member who wrote, “I bought a cooling vest, cooling shirt, cooling pants to go under my jeans, and a cooling beanie!”

Note that not all members are fans of cooling vests. “Sorry to be the negative one,” wrote one, “but I didn’t get much use of the vest. Ice melts in a few minutes, and I just wound up with water.”

Another member shared that their vest “does help, but it’s bulky.”

Choosing the Right Cooling Vest for MS

According to ActiveMSers, finding a vest that fits snugly on the body is essential to getting the most from its cooling properties. A garment that’s too loose or bulky will lose some of its cooling to the environment around you rather than cooling down the body. Many vests use a velcro closure to help keep the cooling effects close to the wearer.

It’s also important to find a vest that you will actually wear. In other words, make sure to look for a style that you feel comfortable and confident in. There are many different options when it comes to cooling vests and cooling garments overall. Price, style, fit, and comfort are all factors you should consider when searching for the right vest for you.

ActiveMSers put different cooling vests to the test to see what people with MS rated the highest. Taking 13 subjective and objective factors into consideration, their testing found that individuals preferred phase change cooling vests over other styles and cooling technologies. These vests are highly versatile and can be charged in many different ways — they can be placed in the fridge or freezer, chilled in ice water, or even cooled down in an air-conditioned environment.

ActiveMSers also noted that ice vests should generally be avoided, as their extremely low temperatures can lead to numbness and even frostbite. As one MyMSTeam member advised, “I used an older model of a cool vest, but it added 20 pounds of weight with the heavy ice packs. Look for a newer style.”

As another member shared, this ice can also melt, leaving you with an uncomfortable, water-filled vest.

The MSAA’s Cooling Distribution Program

High-tech cooling vests can be expensive, running upwards of thousands of dollars. As one MyMSTeam member shared, “They can be quite pricey, but there are companies who will send you one cheaper — if not free — based on need and income.”

To help mitigate the cost burden of these garments, the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) offers cooling vests and garments to people with MS free of charge. You can learn more and see whether you qualify on the MSAA’s cooling program page.

Know What Works for You

Evaluate your interests and needs before you invest in a cooling vest. MyMSTeam members have shared what works for them, with one noting, “I just bought a Polar Vest, and love it.”

Another member wrote, “I have a couple of those neckties that you place in cold water, and the gel pellets inside swell up. They come in so handy. My son took one on a bike ride and stayed cool.”

Find Your Community

MyMSTeam is the social network for people with MS and their loved ones. Here, more than 190,000 members from across the world come together to ask questions, offer support and advice, and connect with others who understand life with multiple sclerosis. Members frequently discuss products like cooling vests that help them stay comfortable during the hot summer months and during physical activity.

Have you tried cooling vests or other cooling garments? What are your favorites? Share your thoughts in the comments below or by posting on MyMSTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Joseph V. Campellone, M.D. is board-certified in neurology, neuromuscular disease, and electrodiagnostic medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Victoria Menard is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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