Caffeine Overdose Symptoms: Facts and Fiction
How common is caffeine overdose?
With the plethora of caffeinated products in the marketplace, one could assume that overdosing on caffeine would be becoming quite common.
If we look at the statistics from The American Association of Poison Control Centers we find that, while it does exist, it isn’t as common as the Media would lead us to believe.
We published another article that shows that overdosing on Tylenol is a lot more common than overdosing on caffeine.
I think with most subjects there is truth and then there are half truths, here say, urban legends, media hype, and even fiction. Caffeine overdose is no exception. Let’s take an honest look at the subject and try to put all of the information into perspective, to determine if caffeine should be in the same category as any other drug overdose.
Caffeine Overdose Symptoms
There are some common symptoms that indicate too much caffeine consumption. These symptoms should be recognized and further caffeine intake should be stopped to avoid more serious and even life-threatening symptoms.
Sometimes people ingest massive doses of caffeine all at once and this is dangerous because it doesn’t give the body time to react with the normal warning symptoms that indicate too much caffeine is in your system. Caffeine remains in your system for at least 4 hours (in a normal person).
Here are the usual symptoms in order from the first ones to be exhibited to the severe, later stage ones.
- Jitters, Restlessness, and Nervousness
- Increased heartbeat
- Heart palpitations (cardiac arrhythmia)
- Cardiac arrest
It’s hard to pinpoint an amount of caffeine that will cause these caffeine overdose symptoms as people have different tolerance levels.
Generally a dose between 250-500mg (check caffeine amounts here) could produce some of the above mild to moderate symptoms, especially in those with no tolerance. Those with a caffeine allergy could have severe symptoms even after a very small dose.
There was a proposal for Caffeine intoxication to be included in the DSM physicians manual.
The proposal suggested a diagnosis could be made when any 5 of the following symptoms are present: restlessness, nervousness, excitement, insomnia, flushed face, diuresis (you keep passing urine), gastrointestinal disturbance (upset tummy, diarrhea), muscle twitching, rambling flow of thought and speech, tachycardia or cardiac arrhythmia, periods of inexhaustibility, or psychomotor agitation.
However Caffeine Addiction as a disorder was rejected from the next version of the manual.
Caffeine Overdose Documented Cases
Caffeine overdose does happen and has been documented. Here are some of the more recent cases easily found on Google resulting in death or hospitalization;
- 19 year old James Stone dies after taking 25 to 30 No Doz pills in 2007. (at least 2.5 grams of caffeine)
- 40 Seagulls die from caffeine overdose in Canada this year from eating used coffee grinds.
- 17 year old Jasmine Willis, a Durham, UK waitress overdosed by drinking 7 double espressos in 2007. She was taken to the hospital, but recovered soon after. (that’s roughly 1.078 grams)
- In the late 1990′s an Australian women, with a heart condition died after consuming a guarana based shot from her local health food store. This product is no longer on the market. (10g/liter, ok that’s just nuts!)
- 2010 a 23 British man from Mansfield, England died after taking to 2 spoonfuls of pure caffeine powder washed down by an energy drink at a party. His death was ruled accidental.
- 2011 Fourteen-year-old Anais Fournier, died after she reportedly consumed two 24 ounce Monsters (480mg of caffeine) in a 24 hour period. Cause of death was a heart arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity. There seems to be some conflicting stories as to how much she really consumed and this seems true since 480mg in a 24 hour period isn’t a toxic amount. Update October, 2012: Her parents are suing Monster Energy for wrongful death although the girl did have a known pre-existing heart condition.
- 2012 The FDA is investigating Monster Energy since the energy drink has been linked to five deaths over the past year.
- 2013: According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, energy drink related ER visits have doubled in the last 4 years, however, 42% of these visits involved caffeine in combination with other drugs such as alcohol or other narcotics. src.
- 2013 a New Zealand woman died from cardiac arrhythmia associated with her 10 liter/day Coca-Cola habit. She also smoked 30 cigarettes a day and barely ate. Caffeine was a contributing factor, but the 900-1000mg daily dose wasn’t the only factor. src.
Caffeine Overdose Facts
Luckily for us, we have mechanisms built into the human body that let us know we’ve had enough of something. This is true with caffeine overdose. Well before we are at a toxic level we experience side effects that prevent us from consuming more, ie. nausea and vomiting.
This means that before the 149 or so cans of Red Bull that it would take to kill an average adult male, vomiting would most certainly happen. For most that would happen after about can number 5!
In the overdose cases above we can see that what caused the deaths were extremely poor judgment, or an underlying medical condition. As for the girl, her body clearly let her know before she reached the toxic level. Caffeine in excess is definitely dangerous, but as with countless other products, some degree of good judgement is required by those using it .
Caffeine containing beverages are 2nd behind water as the most consumed drinks, so if caffeine overdose was really that common or that easy, we would have a load of statistics on our hands because of the billions of people who use the drug everyday.
It’s important to note, however, that caffeine is a drug and should be respected and not abused. Since some people have extremely low tolerance to caffeine, they could – in theory – overdose quite easily.
Education is Key
Instead of banning caffeinated products and protesting energy drinks, the best caffeine overdose prevention is education. That is part of our mission here at Energy Fiend, to educate the consumer about caffeine and help the consumer to be aware of the caffeine content of products available.
We promote giving consumers the right to make wise choices for both themselves and for their children. We also urge people to understand their safe caffeine limits in order to avoid accidental caffeine overdose.