Can Ice Packs Stop A Seizure? (epilepsy)

Source: WHO infographics on epilepsy

Ice packs (cold packs) applied to the lower back at the first sign of a seizure may be able to halt or significantly decrease the severity of a seizure.

(If I’m correct, then this is the most important post on this blog, so please share.)

After researching ways to stop seizures, I suggested this to a friend with epilepsy. Her previous seizure lasted for 5 minutes (absolutely terrifying); this time her husband ran to the fridge, got two ice packs on her back, and the seizure immediately began slowing.

Obviously this is only an anecdote, but if you or a loved one has seizures, I can’t imagine it would hurt to try.

Let’s run through the evidence in favor of ice packs:

Seizures can definitely be triggered by being too hot–febrile seizures are somewhat common in children with fevers. Hyperthermia (heat stroke) can also cause seizures. And, yes, you can induce seizures in rats by heating them up. In the rat experiment, note that the seizure-prone rats’s temperatures went up more than the seizure-resistant rats–seizures may be more common in people whose bodies have difficulty regulating their temperatures.

Seizures also independently increase brain temperature in rats, and preventing this temperature increase, at least during hypoxic seizures, appears to protect rats against brain damage. But these are rats, obviously, not humans.

“Status epilepticus” is a seizure that lasts for more than 5 minutes or that recurs within a 5 minute period, and is considered a life-threatening emergency. 10-30% of people with status epilepticus die within 30 days. The immediate treatment for such cases is of course with anti-seizure medications, but some seizures (refractory status epilepticus) don’t even respond to this. In these cases, hypothermia–cooling the patient–appears to stop the seizures. (At least until the patient warms up again, but this gives doctors time to work out a better treatment plan.)

That said, seizure-prone people don’t need to be cold all the time–summer weather doesn’t cause an overall uptick in seizures (and some people’s seizures are actually triggered by being cold. If you are one of these people, ice packs may not be for you.)

I encountered the ice packs trick on forums where people were talking about treating seizures in dogs. (Yes, there are dogs with epilepsy.) There are many accounts of people successfully stopping or preventing their dogs from going into a seizure by grabbing a cold pack at the first warning signs and putting it directly onto the dog’s lower back:

We have a precious little Jack Russell Terrier named Scamp. … he is one of many dogs who have epilepsy. This has broken our hearts over the last three-and-a-half years. …

Recently my husband and I did research on the Internet regarding dogs with epilepsy. What we found was amazing. Something the eight or so vets we have seen over the past years had never even mentioned to us. It’s as simple as keeping a bag of ice in your freezer.

We had never tried this until this morning at 5:00 a.m. when Scamp began seizuring. I’ve never seen anything work so fast in my life. As I write this this morning I’m still amazed and can’t believe that what ended a seziure was as simple as a bag of ice and 2 teaspoons of vanilla ice cream to elevate his blood sugar level.

Here’s how it works: all you do is fill a food storage bag (at least one quart size) with crushed ice and leave it in the freezer. When your dog starts to seizure remove the bag of ice from the freezer and place it firmly on his lower back. Scamp came out of his seizure in about 30 to 60 seconds. …

He came out of the seizure smoothly and with no post-ictal symptoms whatsoever. He began to walk and followed my husband and I right into the kitchen. I went to the freezer and took out vanilla ice cream and took two teaspoons out of the carton. … he lapped it up. He was fine. He wanted to go outside so my husband followed him out to make sure he would be OK. He went to the bathroom, roamed around the yard for a bit and came in and went back to sleep on our bed. I’m still in shock.

The ice cream is to help get the dog’s blood sugar levels back up to normal. Humans might also find this useful.

Here’s another testimonial, from one of the links above:

We have been using ice packs to help manage our girl’s seizures for over a year now. From what I have heard first hand from others is that it either doesn’t work at all or it works fabulously. With our girl it “works fabulously”. It is not the miracle cure and it does not prevent future seizures but it definitely stops her grand mal right in its tracks. It is the most amazing thing I have ever seen. I would love to get it on video but as you all know a seizure is such a highly emotionally time that grabbing the camera is the last thing on my mind. If we get the ice pack on her within the first 15 seconds or so, the grand mal just suddenly stops. Like a light switch. All motor movement comes to a halt. She continues to be incoherent for a bit but all movements stop.

“Lani” is a 65 lb. Lab with a pretty thick coat. Our first attempts did not go so well because those little blue ice packs or baggies did nothing. So I custom made her packs using large seal a meal bags with water and rubbing alcohol that I keep in the freezer. It is perfect because its super cold but pliable so you can form it over their back. Every seizure she has is treated with the ice packs. She is also on high doses of meds, supplements, etc. but my personal belief is that the ice pack treatment helps to significantly reduce the length of the seizure.

The Journal of American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association published an article on the use of ice packs to stop seizures in dogs, A Simple, Effective Technique for Arresting Canine Epileptic Seizures, back in 2004. You can read it for a mere $95, or check out the highlights on Dawg Business’s blog:

Fifty-one epileptic canine patients were successfully treated during an epileptic seizure with a technique involving the application of ice on the back (T10 to L4). This technique was found to be effective in aborting or shortening the duration of the seizure.

And of course, in a study of rat seizures, the cold rats didn’t have any while the warm rats did.

The technique doesn’t work for all dogs, but it works for enough that it really seems like there must be something there.

But I haven’t read any cases of people using ice packs to treat seizures in humans–the (small quantity of) veterinary literature doesn’t appear to have made it over to human trials. But if it works for dogs, why not try it on people? It would be simplest, cheapest, least side-effect-inducing option for millions of people whose seizures can’t be fully controlled by medication.

Why does it work?

I don’t know. The ice packs probably aren’t in contact with the dogs for long enough to significantly lower the dog’s brain temperature, although they might lower the temperature of spinal nerves.

Perhaps the sudden cold just has an overwhelming effect on the brain that interrupts whatever feedback loop is causing the seizure.

From The Hidden Genetics of Epilepsy

Why not just medicate the seizures away?

Seizures are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions (actually, a friend of the family who had epilepsy died of a seizure that occurred while taking a bath.) Seizure medications, by necessity, are also serious and can have major side effects. According to the WHO, 70% of epileptics respond well to medication and live normal lives–leaving 30% of people who don’t. For many people, especially children, treatment is about trying to find a balance between minimizing harm from seizures and minimizing harm from anti-seizure medications.

So for anyone out there with epilepsy or another seizure condition, please consider ice packs as one more tool in your arsenal. And for any doctors out there, please do some research on this; there’s got to be some medical award for anyone who can prove it.

Good luck.

19 thoughts on “Can Ice Packs Stop A Seizure? (epilepsy)

  1. i haveaboy with eplipsey he is on medication Lamictal 400 daily dosage. lately, he still getting early signage of fit, starting with redness of eye, disnesse, blinking eyes & not responding. it takes 4 minutes. I tried cold pack it helped to stop the fit. So, it is working

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just wanted to say SUPER THANK-YOU!!! I came across your post, and I believe you may have just saved my life!!! I’ve had 5 seizures in the past 2 days, and I was desperate for help! I just felt another one coming, so I quickly grabbed an ice pack, and within minutes, I could feel the seizure completely disappear!!!! I am so appreciative of your post! I’m not sure why there aren’t tons more posts about this!! Ice is like a drug, I swear, it is like heaven feeling the coolness run they my body/cells, it’s hard to explain, but it’s AMAZING!!! Thank-you!
    I ❤️ YOU!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. My wife has saved my life many times now with ice packs on my head and neck. Grand mal seizures have been my curse in my fifties and finished me for working. If it were not for my partner present and laying ice upon me it would likely continue to progress. It works beyond a doubt. Problem being is that if your alone your screwed.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. My wife suffered from seizures (grand & petit mal) ever since she underwent brain surgery (glioma removal) in 2013. Pharmaceutical drugs (not medicines at all) have been a disaster. On Lamictal, she suffered 3 tonic clonic seizures a week. The average number improved slightly after the switch to Keppra (but oh, the so-called “side effects” of levetiracetam!).

    First breakthrough came when we decided to produce our own medicine: RS oil from Indica varieties we selected for the right proportion CBD/THC. Our first month and a half period of being seizure-free felt like a holiday..

    The calory-restricted ketogenic diet we added (Thomas Seyfried), prolonged that period even more (made it to almost 7 months seizure-free!!), while the addition of vitamin B12 worked wonders to suppress the Keppra side effects (the effect of this and many other drugs being caused by the depletion of essential vitamins from the body).

    About 2 years ago, my wife discovered that standing barefoot on our cold floor in the living room, could sometimes prevent a seizure. So we figured out that cooling might add something to our DIY therapeutic arsenal, so we tried home-made ice packs (inflatable travel pillows of the round-the-neck type, filled with an icy mixture of water and anti-freeze glycerine). And it works, each and every time!
    Probably not by cooling the brain via carotid-cooling as I initially assumed (until I realized that there’s no way that our neckpack cools that fast). I think it’s a fair guess that something akin to vagus nerve stimulation is in play here.

    Of course we could say that we couldn’t care less about how it works, as long as our pack does the job, but that’s not entirely true. So here goes as far as the application of the cooling principle to humans is concerned (the favoured term on medline is “hypothermia”):

    Towards a non-invasive interictal application of hypothermia for treating seizures: a feasibility and pilot study
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5256640/

    Therapeutic Hypothermia for Refractory Status Epilepticus in a Child with Malignant Migrating Partial Seizures of Infancy and SCN1A Mutation: A Case Report.
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3621620/

    Focal cooling devices for the surgical treatment of epilepsy.
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21939851

    Design and Performance Assessment of a Solid-State Microcooler for Thermal Neuromodulation.
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30393323

    Application of focal cerebral cooling for the treatment of intractable epilepsy.
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20885118

    Cooling of the epileptic focus suppresses seizures with minimal influence on neurologic functions.
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22292464

    Therapeutic brain hypothermia, its mechanisms of action, and its prospects as a treatment for epilepsy.
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23551057

    Kind regs from Amsterdam,
    Richard

    (3rd attempt)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve rescued your post from the spam folder. Thanks for letting me know it was in there! This is really an amazing journey. I am so glad your wife has gotten her seizures under control; they really are awful. I hope other people see this and it helps them. Great links, by the way. Thank you.

      Kind regards back from the US,
      EvX

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi EvX,

        A little update here from Woodenshoesland about ice packs and seizures. Where were we? Oh yes, here it is:

        “I think it’s a fair guess that something akin to vagus nerve stimulation is in play here.”

        Fair guess indeed. So it got us thinking. If this is the way the ice packs work, then there may be other non-invasive ways to accomplish the same. We already have the surgical implants for deep brain stimulation and also the VNS implants for direct vagus nerve stimulation in case of intractable epilepsy.

        A little PubMed digging pointed to even simpler methods being tested right now.

        Besides ice pack cooling for VN stimulation, there’s also the TENS method of delivering a small pulsed current to the ear and (even more simple) stimulating the vagus nerve in the same area via vibrations.
        In the research paper (a Dutch/US cooperation) it says: “vibrotactile device” which was engineered in the US, but it’s really just the buzzer in your cell phone (a small DC bar type vibration motor with an off centre mass spinning round). I won’t post the link to the research this time to spare you the spam folder diving, but the title will lead you there.

        It’s called “Investigational treatment of rheumatoid arthritis with a vibrotactile device applied to the external ear.”

        Another word for vibrotactile device would be a vibrator (Yes, we Dutchies are blunt & straightforward). Simply put: stick a vibrator in your ear and see what happens. So we got one for a fist full of euros (the thinnest/smallest we could get, tip diameter 8mm) through some dodgy website that specializes in devices for “intensive massage” and bingo! It works. My wife signals the tell-tale signs of a petit mal coming up. We apply the “vtd” and it passes. According to the study, the effect of a series of 2minute applications lasts for some time, so it could be a very simple way of raising the seizure threshold.

        Same thing can be done with a simple TENS device with electrodes applied to the same auricular area (cymba concha). Here the technique is called tVNS. Turns out there’s plenty of research going on.

        Here’s a Dutch/Australian/German one: “Transcutaneous Vagus Nerve Stimulation (tVNS) Enhances Response Selection During Sequential Action.”

        The device they used is called NEMOS and it’s developed in Germany. We’re going to try a simple, cheap one and go DIY on the electrodes. See how that works.

        All of the other methods to calm down one’s brain work via vagus nerve stimulation: meditation, singing, deep breathing and so on. So one can hire a guru, or put a “vibrotactile device” in one’s ear for two minutes. Same difference, it’s all VNS.

        Cheers from Amsterdam,
        Richard

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I am 49. I have had petti Mal sz’s since I was a little girl. They stopped when I got my period and only came back with pregnancy, if I’m severely ill, or have extreme pain. I have been able to stop most of my sz’s from occurring from exposing myself to cold. I get an ora so I would be able to react. I would lay on a cold floor or go outside in winter. When I delivered my son I had to strip down to nothing and the hospital opened all the windows on a cold winter’s day to prevent me having a sz when delivering my son. Sounds extreme but if I had a sz I knew my baby could loose oxygen. It worked. I’ve mentioned this to doctors and they dismissed me. They said are you sure your having sz. Kinda of insulted, I replied yes bc if I cant stop the sz after it’s over I urinate. Which is another reason why I want to stop them. So finding this article has got me excited bc I feel like it supports my theory. What’s even more interesting is I have a severely autistic brother with moderate MR. He has flapping episodes where as he doesn’t seem present in his frontal lobe. These episodes can go on for hours. He can’t get himself under control. He turns bright red as his body temperature raises and he drenches all his clothes with sweat. His hear rate is in the high 200s. So I tried a cold shower. It worked. Within seconds he started coming out of it. It felt like I was being cruel but I feel like if I dont do something hes going to have a heart attack. All this stress on his heart will lower his life expectancy. I know the episode is over bc he starts to smile. I warm the water up and dry him off and dress him to get his body back to a normal temp. Hes nonverbal but I swear if he could talk. He would say thank you. I see the relief in his face. Thank you for helping me stop feeling this way and flapping so I can relax and be calm again. I’ve been researching the benefits of a cold shower. I also have a bipolar son who if his meds are off can have a emotional breakdown where he breaks things and gets out of control. He says I don’t even know why. But he feels it coming on. I’m going to recommend a cold shower to him too when he starts to feel this way. I’m curious to see if its effective. The human brain is a mystery but I feel like the cold water is something Dr’s need to explore more. All these meds are not good for us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your story is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing it. I think it’s interesting that you’re the second person now who has mentioned noticing a positive effect from cold floors. I guess that’s because cold floors are so common.

      Good luck!

      Like

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