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Energy drinks create health problems for users

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A new government survey of U.S. hospitals reveals that more than 20,000 people visited the emergency room in 2011 after consuming energy drinks, which is double the amount of visits five years ago.

The majority of people who consume energy drinks and suffer complications are teens and young adults, with 18- to 25-year-olds being the heaviest users, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Pam Thornton, administrative director of North Florida Regional Medical Center, said young people are inclined to use energy drinks.

“They have a tendency to really burn the candle at both ends,” Thornton said. “It’s the nature of that age group to do that.”

The ability to get instant energy drinks remains an attraction for many students who say they need the drinks to perform well academically, despite the risks. A can or bottle of an energy drink can have up to five times more caffeine than a cup of coffee.

Ogechi Ochata, a junior at the University of Florida, said, “I feel like I can stay up longer, and I do actually stay up longer throughout the night.”

That extra push comes with risks, especially when energy drinks are consumed with other substances.

About 40 percent of the ER visits in 2011 involved adverse reactions with other drugs.

“It’s important that you understand what ingredients – what the active ingredients – are of your prescription or your over the counter medications and how they interact
with different food items,” Thornton said.

Physicians said adverse reactions can be anything from nausea or feeling light-headed  to feelings of panic, anxiety and even heart problems.

People that mix energy drinks with alcohol are three times more likely to leave a bar highly intoxicated and four times more likely to drive drunk, according to a study published in 2010.

It’s unknown how many people had adverse reactions but didn’t seek treatment.

Adelaide Sefah, a junior at UF, experienced adverse effects after consuming a number of energy drinks.

“I took several back-to-back,” Sefah said. “I did well on the exam. I stayed up. I studied, and then I felt like I couldn’t go to work. I felt like I was gonna vomit. I felt like I was gonna faint.”

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics discouraged the use of energy drinks for children of all ages, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Institute of Medicine recommended that all drinks in schools should be caffeine-free.

Despite growing medical evidence to suggest caution, many students say their habits won’t change.

“I’m trying to get into medical school,” Sefah said. “I think I’ll still drink them.”

Andrew V. Pestano contributed to this story. Emily Stanton edited this story online.

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