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Energy Drinks a Danger to Young People with Heart Condition

Feb 17, 2017
Energy Drinks a Danger to Young People with Heart Condition

New research from Australia shows that energy drinks are linked to a higher risk of sudden cardiac death and increased blood pressure among young people who may be unaware they have a heart condition.

A study jointly undertaken by the University of Sydney, the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPA), and the Centenary Institute found people with a condition known as long QT syndrome experienced such significant changes to their heart rate that they were at increased risk of sudden cardiac death, ABC News (Australia) reports. Long QT syndrome affects one in every 2,000 people.

Parker Waichman notes that in addition to the heart dangers, energy drink consumption has also been linked to liver problems.

Long QT Syndrome

The Mayo Clinic explains that long QT syndrome is a heart rhythm condition where the heart muscle takes longer than normal to recharge between beats. Electrical impulses in the heart are measured in waves labeled P, Q, R, S and T. The Q through T waves show electrical activity in the heart's lower chambers (ventricles).

The interval between Q and T waves corresponds to the time it takes the individual's heart to contract and then refill with blood before beginning the next contraction. If the QT interval is prolonged this can result in fast, chaotic heartbeats, which in turn can trigger a sudden fainting spell or seizure. In some cases, the heart can beat erratically for so long that it causes sudden death.

An individual can be born with a genetic mutation that puts them at risk for long QT syndrome. Certain medication and medical conditions can cause long QT syndrome. Antibiotics, antidepressants and antipsychotic medications, antihistamines, diuretics, heart-rhythms medications, cholesterol-lowering medications, and some diabetes medications can lengthen the QT interval and upset the heart rhythm.

Energy Drinks

People engaged in physical labor and sports and exercise often consume energy drinks for hydration and physical and mental stimulation during physical exertion. The drinks typically contain a mixture of B vitamins and an "energy blend" that includes caffeine.

The makers of popular energy drinks-5-Hour Energy, Monster, Red Bull, and Jolt Cola, to name a few-say their products are safe. But energy drinks contain high doses of caffeine, which has been linked to heart problems, high blood pressure, seizures, and other health issues. The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned that children and teenagers should not consume energy drinks because of the risk of heart and neurological problems.

Even one energy drink "can trigger dangerous blood pressure or heart disturbance, or even sudden death," in someone with long QT, according to RPA cardiologist Dr. Belinda Gray. "These drinks are not as safe as people think that they are." Dr. Gray said long QT patients showed a significant increase in their blood pressure "of more than 10 per cent," a rise not seen in the control group. Dr. Gray said many young people might not be aware that they have long QT syndrome or the danger that energy drinks can pose.

Mixing alcohol with energy drinks

Energy Drinks a Danger to Young People with Heart Condition

Many study participants report mixing alcohol with energy drinks. Barbara-Anne Tane, 34, who has had long QT syndrome since she was 16, said she used to mix alcohol with energy drinks when she went out with friends. Ms. Tane said she was not aware of any health risks posed by energy drinks.

As part of the study Ms. Tane was given energy drinks over a 90-minute period while undergoing continuous heart and blood testing. At first she felt "fine and calm," but 10 to 15 minutes later she started to "feel the affects [of the energy drinks] ... being more alert." She then started to feel her heart rate increase. Ms. Tane stopped consuming energy drinks when she became concerned about possible health affects, particularly because of her heart condition.

A spokesperson for the Beverage Council of Australia told the ABC News that "the results of this study are far from conclusive . . . 87.5 per cent of respondents reported no adverse effects." The Beverage Council said energy drinks "have been repeatedly tested and found to be safe by countless food safety authorities throughout the world."

The study was extremely small, with only 24 participants. Dr. Gray said energy drink dosages given to people in the study were restricted for ethical reasons, but conclusions about the affects of energy drinks could still be drawn from the results. Dr. Gray said many young people "will consume four or more energy drinks with alcohol in one evening. These drinks are widely available to all young people."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the amount of caffeine permitted in food products. A 12-ounce soda, for example, is limited to 71 milligrams of caffeine. But energy drinks are considered dietary supplements and the FDA does not have the authority to limit their caffeine. And, unlike over the counter products containing caffeine, energy drinks are not required to have a warning label. Many people consume caffeine-laden energy drinks as they would ordinary soda, sometimes even drinking them at breakfast.

A case study in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) describes liver problems experienced by a 50-year-old construction worker who had been consuming four to five energy drinks a day for several weeks. The patient's blood tests showed elevated liver enzymes, which indicates liver damage. A liver biopsy confirmed acute hepatitis and an earlier reported case of energy drink-associated hepatitis supported the diagnosis.

The BMJ study's authors warn people who use energy supplements in any form-beverages, pills, or powders-that they need to be informed about what they are consuming, and how much. Vitamins and nutrients can be present in quantities that greatly exceed recommended daily intake and can increase the "risk for harmful accumulation and toxicity," the authors warn.

Help for People Suffering Health Problems Linked to Energy Drink Consumption

If you or someone you know has experienced heart problems or liver damage due to energy drink consumption, we urge you to contact the attorneys at Parker Waichman for information about your legal rights. Fill out the firm's online form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529) for a free and confidential consultation.

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