Cut the caffeine for kids, elderlyWith all of the news attention lately centered on a young girl who died after drinking two energy drinks, I am curious if she was a unique case? Or is it best to have young children (and perhaps adults) stay away from those types of drinks altogether?
By: Dr. Joshua Wynne, Grand Forks Herald
Q. With all of the news attention lately centered on a young girl who died after drinking two energy drinks, I am curious if she was a unique case? Or is it best to have young children (and perhaps adults) stay away from those types of drinks altogether?
A. The Food and Drug Administration recently released information about five people who died after consuming a highly caffeinated energy drink, as well as an additional case of a nonfatal heart attack.
One of the five fatalities was a 14-year-old girl who died suddenly almost a year ago reportedly after drinking two energy drinks. At this point, we don’t know if the energy drinks are related to these terrible outcomes.
One of the suspect ingredients is caffeine, which can cause irregular heartbeats and cardiac problems. But the amount of caffeine in these drinks is not huge, although it is around two to three times the amount in a standard cup of coffee, and still well below the level of caffeine considered dangerous.
Children and the elderly may be more susceptible to the effects of caffeine. Whether any of the other ingredients in these drinks might be dangerous is not known. So, the bottom line is that we don’t know if these drinks can cause heart problems in rare cases or not. For the present, I would not recommend their consumption by children younger than 12 (and maybe even older, since the girl who died was 14), in the elderly, in patients known to be sensitive to caffeine, or in patients with preexisting heart disease unless they are cleared to do so by their health care provider. And I’d also strongly recommend that people stop drinking them when they get any side effects from caffeine, such as jitteriness, light-headedness, nausea, palpitations or a headache.
Q. We hear a lot about coronary artery disease and risk factors for developing it, but what about peripheral artery disease? I’ve been reading a lot recently about PAD.
A. Peripheral artery disease or PAD refers to blockages of the major arteries in the body, especially those going to the legs. We differentiate PAD from coronary artery disease, since coronary arteries go to the heart and blockages in them lead to things like heart attacks. PAD, on the other hand, can cause problems in the legs when it affects the blood vessels going to the lower part of the body.
It turns out, not surprisingly, that the four major risk factors for the development of PAD are the very same ones that predict coronary artery disease — cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. And the risk of PAD increases as each risk factor increases. So someone who smoked a lot is more likely to develop PAD than someone who smoked a little.
A recent study showed that smoking, high blood pressure and long-standing diabetes are particularly likely to cause PAD. The four risk factors are additive; those with all four had the highest likelihood of developing PAD.
Wynne is vice president for health affairs at UND, dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and a professor of medicine. He is a cardiologist by training.
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