If you have multiple sclerosis (MS), it’s likely that the sun and the heat are your foes. Warm temperatures can have a significant effect on MS symptoms, says Hal Gutstein, MD, a clinical assistant professor of neurology at NYU Langone Medical Center Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center.
Even a slight increase in temperature, something as little as 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit, can worsen and agitate symptoms. The following can also worsen your MS symptoms:
- exercise or an overly active lifestyle
- hot showers or baths
- fever from a cold or other acute illness
In medical terms, this is known as Uhthoff's phenomenon. As Gutstein explains, overheating was actually the basis for diagnosing MS prior to the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Since a slight temperature increase can impair nerve impulses enough to cause symptoms, a “hot tub test” was once used to spur on symptoms.
While temporary, such small temperature increases can greatly impact your quality of life. Fortunately, cooling vests can help to maintain your core body temperature, prevent temperature fluctuations, and reduce flare-ups.
There are different kinds of cooling vests with varying price points and features. Battery or electrical-powered vests, called active cooling vests, can be more expensive but can cool the body longer. Gel pack or passive cooling vests don’t provide such long-lasting cooling, but they are usually cheaper.
Before you purchase a cooling vest, take a look at these top seven models.
1. First Line Basic Cooling Vest
Price: Under $400
This vest has a two-piece, over-the-shoulder design that fits well for various types of activity while also offering comfort while lounging.
Using phase change material to work their cooling magic, you should expect each use to last between three and four hours. While it’s on the more expensive side, First Line basic cooling vests get high points for wearability, convenience, and comfort.
2. Polar Products Cool58 Zipper Vest Kit
Price: Under $350
This kit includes a vest, neck wrap, and extra cooling packs, making it a real MS lifesaver. The cotton cooling vest incorporates phase change technology. It uses packs that you can recharge in a just a bucket of ice water. It’s a bit higher in cost, but can be a great choice when traveling, camping, or anywhere a refrigerator or freezer isn’t available.
The vest gets high marks for its customizable fit and unisex design, and is appropriate for a variety of sizes, activities, and climates. It’s also discreet, and can be worn either over or under your clothes.
3. Arctic Heat Cooling Vest
Price: Under $250
This lightweight vest uses embedded gel and can stay cool for up to two hours. It mimics the body’s natural cooling process through its two body cooling fabrics.
Designed with the athlete in mind, this performance vest might work better for people who plan to be involved in active or outdoor activities for shorter periods of time. Available in sizes XS to 5XL, it also may suit larger body types better.
4. StaCool UnderVest
Price: Under $200
Unlike some other vests, the StaCool Under Vest was designed specifically with people with MS in mind. This sleek-looking vest uses four ThermoPak gel paks and offers three hours of cooling per ThermoPak set.
This vest can be worn either under or over clothes. It’s slightly heavier than other options and weighs roughly 5 pounds with the ThermoPaks. This is something to keep in mind when determining whether this vest is right for you.
5. Polar Products CoolOR® Zipper Vest with Kool Max® Packs
Price: Under $150
This lightweight vest uses frozen water-based cooling packs that fit into insulated pockets. The cooling packs, which should be kept in the freezer until solid, are made of biodegradable materials and are reusable for years.
Because of its lower price point and ease of use, this is a popular choice for those affected by heat sensitivity.
6. Maranda FlexiFreeze Ice Vest
Price: Under $100
The FlexiFreeze Ice Vest is made of neoprene. It claims to be “the lightest, thinnest, best performing, and most cost effective cooling vest on the market today.”
Rather than gel packs, water is used as the cooling mechanism. Water is more efficient and more lightweight. When the ice sheets are removed, both the vest and panels are machine washable.
7. HyperKewl Evaporative Cooling Ultra Sport Vest
Price: Under $50
The least-expensive option, this lightweight vest is evaporative and can provide five to 10 hours of cooling relief per cycle. Evaporative vests may be best for low-humidity climates.
This vest is specifically designed for runners, cyclists, and motocross riders. It’s a great option for those with a more active lifestyle. Besides coming in a variety of sizes, it’s also available in a number of colors.
Choosing a Vest
Regardless of what type of vest you choose, Gutstein recommends making sure it fits you properly around the torso. A vest that is too loose-fitting may not give you the desired effect.
Cooling vests are not usually covered by health insurance. Still, it never hurts to double check with your insurance provider. Some programs may also help offset the cost, such as Multiple Sclerosis Association of America and the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. Military veterans may also qualify for a free Polar cooling vest through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
No matter what cooling vest you choose, or if you opt to try other cooling techniques instead, the most important thing is to listen to your body and to know your limitations. MS and its symptoms can be successfully managed.