A study presented to the American Heart Association during its Scientific Sessions suggests that energy drinks may cause an increase in blood pressure and changes to the heart’s rhythm. Specifically, the study, which is preliminary because it has not yet been published, examined patients’ QT intervals. Participants who had just had between one and three energy drinks had a QT interval of 10 milliseconds longer than those who did not have an energy drink. Although 10 milliseconds may not seem like a long time, an extended QT interval is linked to potentially fatal arrhythmia.
“QT prolongation is associated with life-threatening arrhythmias. The finding that energy drinks could prolong the QT, in light of the reports of sudden cardiac death, warrants further investigation,” said Ian Riddock, M.D., a co-author and director of preventive cardiology at the David Grant Medical Center, Travis Air Force Base, California, in a news release.
Researchers also examined the systolic blood pressure of participants and found that having an energy drink increased the systolic blood pressure by an average of 3.5 points. Study participants were between the ages of 18 and 45 and were described as healthy, leading researchers to suggest that patients who had health problems may experience more heart-related side effects.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of emergency room visits linked to energy drinks more than doubled from 10,068 in 2007 to 20,783 in 2011. Patients were more likely to be male than female, although the number of visits for both males and females doubled between 2007 and 2011. The age group most often seen in emergency departments for energy drink-related issues were those aged 18 to 39, but patients aged 40 or older had an increase of 279 percent between 2007 and 2011. Finally, more than half the energy drink-related visits involved only energy drinks, with 42 percent of the remaining visits involving a mixture of energy drinks and other drugs.
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“Consumption of energy drinks is a rising public health problem because medical and behavioral consequences can result from excessive caffeine intake,” the administration writes. “A growing body of scientific evidence documents harmful health effects of energy drinks, particularly for children, adolescents and young adults."
Lawsuits have been filed against the makers of some energy drinks, including Monster Beverage Corp., alleging patients suffered fatal heart problems after drinking the energy drinks.