Energy Drinks Continue to be Linked to Emergency Room Visits

Highly caffeinated energy drinks continue to rise in popularity as they also continue to be associated with an increase in related emergency room visits.

According to a The New York Times report, emergency room treatment for complications associated with the drinks is on the rise and is being seen, for the most part in young people, new federal data reveals.

Annual hospital visits related to popular drinks such as Red Bull, Monster Energy, and 5-Hour Energy, doubled in the years from 2007-2011, the most current year for which data are available, said The Times. The data were derived from a report released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In 2011, 20,783 emergency room visits were reported in which an energy drink was listed as “the primary cause of, or a contributing factor to, the visit,” said The Times; 10,068 visits were reported in 2007.

The just-released report drew on statistics from the Drug Abuse Warning Network, a government system to which drug-related emergency room visits are reported, explained The Times. Reports of hospital visits related to energy drinks reached a record high in 2011. Symptoms associated with consumption of excessive caffeine include anxiety, headaches, irregular heartbeats, and heart attacks, said The Times.

“Consumption of energy drinks is a rising public health problem because medical and behavioral problems can result from excessive caffeine intake,” the report said. “A growing body of scientific evidence documents harmful health effects of energy drinks, particularly for children, adolescents and young adults,” the report added, according to The Times.

Some 42 percent of patients treated in emergency rooms for issues associated with highly caffeinated drinks had either consumed alcohol or medications such as the stimulants Adderall and Ritalin, said The Times. The campaign for energy drinks has been a successful one; however, “Health professionals can discourage use of energy drinks by explaining that perceived health benefits are largely due to marketing techniques rather than scientific evidence,” the report said.

As we’ve said, energy drink marketers promises of increased mental acuity and physical stamina might not be all they say they are and have been overshadowed with reports of serious injuries and deaths. In fact, a Times review of research studies revealed that the industry is based on a cocktail of ingredients that, without the caffeine, offer little, if any, promised benefits.

The drinks are promoted as being different than simply over-caffeinated brews with promises such as “Red Bull gives you wings,” or that Rockstar Energy is “scientifically formulated,” or that Monster Energy is a “killer energy brew.” But, the promises come with a hefty price. Consider that a 16-ounce energy drink sells for about $2.99 a can; contains about the same amount of caffeine as a 30-cent tablet of NoDoz; and is more than one dollar more expensive than a 12-ounce cup of Starbucks coffee, which sells for $1.85, The Times pointed out.

Research on energy drinks has long been lacking, with minimal human studies of the drinks and their ingredients conducted. What has been seen is that the drinks are generally about the caffeine, say researchers. “These are caffeine delivery systems,” Dr. Roland Griffiths, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University who has studied energy drinks, told the Times. “They don’t want to say this is equivalent to a NoDoz because that is not a very sexy sales message.”

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