Emergency room visits related to energy drinks have more than doubled in the past five years, according to a new government report. As the energy drink industry grew more popular and more powerful, the number of emergency visits tied to these super-caffeinated beverages skyrocketed from 10,000 in 2007 to more than 20,000 in 2011.
These patients suffered from heart problems directly after drinking either an energy drink or an energy drink mixed with alcohol or drugs:
Several emergency physicians said they had seen a clear uptick in the number of patients suffering from irregular heartbeats, anxiety and heart attacks who said they had recently downed an energy drink.
More than half of the patients considered in the survey who wound up in the emergency room told doctors they had downed only energy drinks. In 2011, about 42 percent of the cases involved energy drinks in combination with alcohol or drugs, such as the stimulants Adderall or Ritalin.
“A lot of people don’t realize the strength of these things. I had someone come in recently who had drunk three energy drinks in an hour, which is the equivalent of 15 cups of coffee,” said Howard Mell, an emergency physician in the suburbs of Cleveland, who serves as a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians. “Essentially he gave himself a stress test and thankfully he passed. But if he had a weak heart or suffered from coronary disease and didn’t know it, this could have precipitated very bad things.”
Energy drink companies, which represent the fastest growing section of the soft drink industry, have found an enthusiastic consumer base among young adults and teenagers. It’s no surprise, then, that most of these emergency room patients were young people. One analyst who worked on the report noted that these drinks are heavily marketed to young people.
This latest report bolsters the growing pile of evidence that energy drinks deserve far more scrutiny than they currently receive. Another government report recently attributed at least 13 deaths in the past four years to energy drinks. The FDA has generally looked the other way when energy drink companies take advantage of regulatory loopholes to withhold information like the amount of caffeine their products contain. But as concern and research on the trendy beverages grow, the agency is embarking on a broad study of energy drinks and their ingredients to be released in the spring.