Energy drinks linked to ER visits

by: Tom Regan Updated:

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ATLANTA —

Emergency rooms in metro Atlanta tell Channel 2 Action News they are seeing more patients seeking treatment after consuming energy drinks and energy drinks combined with drugs and alcohol.

"People come in and the main thing they'll say, they think they are having a heart attack," said Piedmont ER Physician Dr. Chris Nichols.

Nichols told Channel 2's Tom Regan the hospital has treated about a dozen patients, mostly young, who became ill after consuming one or more highly caffeinated energy drinks.

He said the symptoms include headache, nausea, heavy breathing and an elevated heart rate.

"You see their heart speeding up. They feel like their heart is bounding out of their chest. They'll come in anxious, hypertensive. Their blood pressure will be elevated," Nichols said.

The market for energy drinks has expanded and some drinks can contain hundreds of milligrams of caffeine and other natural stimulants.

A government report said the number of emergency room visits nationwide linked to energy drinks more than doubled from 2007 to 2011, increasing from 10,000 to 21,000.

Doctors said those who consume energy drinks put themselves at greater risk for adverse reactions when they consume alcohol. Possible side effects include seizures.

"Normal heart rate is 60 to 100. Their heart rate may be up to 180. The effect of the alcohol with the energy drink can be concerning," Nichols said.

Some lawmakers have called on the Food and Drug Administration to regulate energy drinks, including the amount of caffeine.

The beverage industry criticized the report, saying it doesn't fully account for those who consume energy drinks with alcohol or illegal substances.