Energy Drinks Send Thousands to the ER Each Year

November 12, 2012

Energy Drinks Send Thousands to the ER Each Year

Report highlights massive increase in ER room visits because of energy drinks over a 4 year period. A new government report indicates that in the period from 2005 until 2009 the number of emergency room visits associated to caffeinated energy drinks rose to over 10 times its starting point. The massive increase noted showed that in 2005 there were 1,128 people admitted to emergency rooms because of effects caused by caffeinated drinks. However by 2009 that number was 13,114. That was slightly lower than 2008 when the surge peaked in excess of 16,000 patients.

Most of the patients were young men, and those aged from 18 years to 25 years accounted for over 50% of the visits. Another 33% were adults aged from 26 to 39 years and teenagers aged from 12 to 17 and adults aged 40 years and older were responsible for the remaining 11% of ER visits. It was noted that about 67% of patients were men indicating that they were more liable to have problems caused by the energy drinks.

This does not surprise some experts who say that the drinks are provided in cans designed to appeal to male teens and young adults. They say that the colors and names which promote vigor and masculinity are manufactured specially to attract young men. These people may not even be regular coffee drinkers yet.

In response to the report the drinks manufacturers are less than happy and counter that the information is incomplete and taken out of context resulting in a misleading conclusion. The American Beverage Association said in a statement, “Of the more than 123 million visits made to emergency room facilities each year, less than one one-hundredth of one percent involved people who consumed energy drinks according to this report. Even so, this report shares no information about the overall health of those who allegedly consumed energy drinks, or even what symptoms brought them to the ER in the first place”.

The report highlights that although 44% of the cases dealt with did include a combination of drink or drugs with the energy drink this meant that 56% of people admitted to ERs during the period had consumed only energy drinks. Albert Woodward, PhD, is director of the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in Rockville, Md., and he says, “There’s been quite a bit of attention paid to those energy drinks that have alcohol with them. What we found was that there are actually more visits for those energy drinks that don’t have alcohol”.

DAWN publishes reports similar to this one on the Internet frequently.

Addressing the issue that we must be careful whether the energy drink has alcohol or not, Woodward says, “People may think that the alcohol-caffeine drinks are dangerous, but they may not have any idea that the caffeine-only drinks are also potentially problematic”.

Other experts involved with the health issues related to caffeinated beverages say that the report’s findings are cause for concern and unexpected. Cecile Marczinski, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, says “I do a lot of my research on combining alcohol and energy drinks and I know that’s really risky, but energy drinks by themselves, it’s been quite in debate whether they’re really all that dangerous since they’re supposed to contain about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee”.

However Marczinski notes that in the United States drinks makers do not have any requirement to report the full amount of caffeine present in the drinks. The only requirement that they must satisfy is to list the ingredients that are added. She says, “The caffeine in these drinks could be vastly underestimated”. This is because stimulant herbs such as guarana which are added may have considerable amounts of caffeine present.

This leads her to believe that energy drinks are much easier to overdose on and more risky than coffee. Because they are produced in larger containers it is easy to take too much at one time and they are available if further thirst quenching is needed. They are also commonly substituted for water or other drinks that sportsmen or women may drink, and their taste is sweet and very easy to drink, whereas for most of us one cup or mug of coffee is ample at any one time. Marczinski ends by saying, “So it is easier, I think, to consume more of an energy drink than any other caffeinated food or product”.

Symptoms to Note in a Caffeine Overdose

Tamara R. Kuittinen, MD, director of medical education in the department of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City describes common indications of caffeine overdose, “Those symptoms include a fast heart rate, elevated blood pressure, maybe a fever, agitation, moodiness, confusion, and perhaps difficulty with fine motor control”. She also expands that these symptoms may be greater than before if the patient has previously taken medications or drugs too.

The majority of people in the report did not get classified as caffeine overdose, they were simply recorded as having adverse reactions and no detailed symptoms were noted either. However ER doctors assume that the indications would be comparable to a standard caffeine overdose.

The most common age group to be involved with problems caused by energy drinks and other substances was the 18 to 25 year olds. And 27% of people who attended emergency rooms were found to be using other stimulants too. A further 16% of the people had alcohol as part of their problem, in addition to the energy drink overdose. One person in ten used illegal drugs with the energy drink before ending up in the ER room.

Research has also found that caffeine can hide the sensation of being drunk in people. Alcoholic drinks which used energy drinks as mixers were seen to be 3 times more likely to leave the drinker in a highly intoxicated state.

Kuittinen also tells students that the answer before an exam is to have a good night’s sleep, not cramming and taking excess energy drinks. The next day, after taking too much caffeine, she says, “Your thoughts are going to be disorganized. You’re going to be hyper-jittery and just wired, and that’s not likely to lead to a better grade”.


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