Link between Emergency Room Visits and Energy Drinks

Students of healthcare hoping to one day work in emergency rooms may be surprised by the kinds of patients they see in the ER. Everyone expects to see people in the hospital who have engaged in substance abuse or binge drinking, or who have diabetes, or who are overweight and are at risk for a heart attack. But there is one type of patient they won't expect, but will see often: teenagers and college students who have had one too many energy drinks. In fact, the number of emergency room trips involving energy drinks doubled from 2007 to 2011.

About 60% of the patients seeking help were only experiencing adverse reactions related to energy drink consumption, while 27% of patients had also consumed prescription drugs, 13% had also consumed alcohol, and 10% had also consumed illegal drugs. And the really scary part: 9% had consumed prescription stimulants like Ritalin on top of the already stimulating energy drinks. Teenagers and young adults are the most likely to end up in the ER because of energy drink consumption.

Studies have reported that 10% of these cases that reach the emergency room are serious enough to warrant hospitalization. About 12% of people who had only consumed energy drinks required hospitalization, while only 8% of those who had drank the beverages in combination with drugs or alcohol needed in-patient care. Although energy drink companies have reported that the drinks only contain as much caffeine as a strongly brewed cup of coffee, they can actually contain up to 500 mg of caffeine – five times the amount in a typical cup of coffee, and ten times the amount in many soft drinks.

Ingesting large amounts of caffeine can lead to insomnia, racing heart rate, increased blood pressure, muscle tremors, and seizures. And though the sale of energy drinks has soared, their consumption has been linked to marijuana use, sexual risk-taking, prescription drug misuse, drinking, smoking, and fighting. According to the Food and Drug Administration, as of 2012 there had been 13 reported deaths that had been linked to energy drinks – many involving 5-hour energy, and five involving Monster.

Energy drink companies have spoken out against these statistics, claiming that the studies haven't examined whether other caffeinated products, like coffee, also send people to the emergency room. They also claim that there's no way of confirming that it's the energy drinks these patients consumed that sent them to the ER. What's unnerving about these statistics, however, is that energy drinks aren't regulated the same way other beverages are. That's because energy drinks are usually categorized as dietary supplements or food products, which don't have caffeine limits. The FDA also doesn't regulate many energy drink ingredients, including taurine and ginseng.

Whether students and professionals planning to enter the medical profession will do so as technicians, nurses, doctors, or healthcare administrators, it's likely that they will at some point come face to face with one of these statistics. There is, however, a possibility that in the future the FDA will impose new restrictions on energy drink companies to combat these rising numbers.


About the Author:

Iris Stone has worked as a freelance writer since 2011. Her writing has included content on medicine, healthcare, and education, although her interests are wide and varied. Prior to breaking into the freelance biz, Iris worked in sales for a health company and prior to that as an assistant in a chiropractic office. She is currently attending George Mason University and is majoring in Political Science. Check out her Google+ profile.

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