The number of people receiving emergency treatment because they consumed energy drinks has spiked in the U.S. over the past few years. With its ever increasing popularity, and availability, the energy drink industry has seen huge growth as more and more people of all demographics are consuming their products.

A recent government survey indicates that from 2007 to 2011, the number of emergency department (ED) visits related to energy drink consumption nearly doubled, increasing from 10,068 to 20,783.

The drinks contain high amounts of additives, such as caffeine, taurine, vitamins and sugars. In fact, they have a significantly higher amount of caffeine than a regular cup of coffee, considerably stimulating the central nervous system and cardiovascular system. Many people aren’t aware of the sheer number of additives inside these drinks, with doctors reporting that they have had patients come in who had drunk as many as three or four energy drinks within an hour – equivalent to almost fifteen cups of coffee.

Excessive energy drink consumption can have some severe medical and behavioral consequences; it’s proving to become a serious public health concern. It commonly causes health complications, such as insomnia, migraine, seizures and heart problems.

Many doctors have said they are seeing an increasing number of patients coming into hospital after consuming an energy drink experiencing rapid and irregular heartbeats and in some cases even heart attacks.

Of all the ED cases related to energy drinks, 58% involved patients who had consumed just energy drinks, while the other 42 percent involving a drug combination as well. The report showed that 27 percent of the drugs combined with energy drinks were pills, of which stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin accounted for 9%, illegal and recreational drugs such as marijuana accounted for close to 10%.

The report noted:

“The majority of energy drink-related ED visits involved either adverse reactions or misuse or abuse of drugs; other reasons are not presented because they represent less than 5 percent of visits. In each year from 2007 to 2011, visits involving adverse reactions were about twice as commonly reported as visits involving misuse or abuse.”

Men accounted for two thirds of the energy drink related ED visits. Perhaps this is because men are much more likely to buy energy drinks than women, the authors wrote. However, visits for both men and women doubled over the past four years (7,000 to 15,000 and 3,000 and 6,000), indicating a similar trend in both sexes.

In 2004, French authorities banned the sale of Red Bull, an energy drink.

Energy drinks
Over a four-year period, the number of ED visits linked to energy-drink consumption doubled

Most of the cases were identified among patients aged 18 to 25, followed by those aged 26 to 39. However, the largest percentage increase over the past few years was found in people above the age of 40, from 2007 to 2011 the number of ED visits in this age group increased by 279 percent.

The marketing of these drinks makes them more appealing to a younger population. The health complications associated with young people consuming energy drinks was explored in a study published in Pediatrics. The researchers fround that energy drinks may be unsafe for some kids, especially those with seizures, heart abnormalities, diabetes or mood and behavior disorders.

The report said:

“The occurrence of energy drink-related ED visits among adolescents and young adults shows that these vulnerable populations experience negative health events after consuming energy drinks. Energy drinks can also be problematic among young adults, especially college students, when used in combination with alcohol.”

The authors concluded:

“Health professionals can discourage use of energy drinks by explaining that perceived health benefits are largely due to marketing techniques rather than scientific evidence. Because of the drinks’ widespread use, it may be beneficial for ED staff to inquire about use of energy drinks when assessing each patient’s use of medications or other drugs.”

Last fall, 18 people died because of an energy-drink-consumption problem, which triggered a lot of pressure on the FDA to investigate whether these beverages are causing serious damage to the general public. They Agency issued a statement shortly afterwards confirming that they will conduct a full review of energy drinks and their impact on public health later this year.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist