Teenagers and caffeine

December 8, 2008 6:49:04 AM PST
The amount of caffeine in energy drinks varies. Typically, the 8-ounce variety contains as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. Larger bottles contain 500 milligrams of caffeine -- as much as you would find in about five cups of coffee.School nurses say a nervous tick or a restless leg are telltale signs of a student who drank too much caffeine, from either coffee or energy drinks.

"Jittery-ness, nervousness, nausea, stomachache, those are your more common side effects," Clovis Unified Nursing Services coordinator Jeanne Prandini said. "Or the feeling that their heart is pounding. That's kind of a common complaint."

And drinking too much caffeine can result in a trip to the emergency room.

"We were noticing an influx of patients in our emergency departments who were coming in with caffeine-related complaints and symptoms after drinking energy drinks," toxicologist Dr. Richard Church said.

A study done by the University of Massachusetts backs that up, finding 4,600 caffeine-related calls to poison control centers in one year, with more than half the callers under the age of 19.

While most symptoms are relatively harmless, in some cases, drinking too much caffeine can have serious consequences.

"Some of the extreme cases that we've heard of is kids having heart attacks and/or stroke, and/or they develop heart murmurs that they have for the rest of their life," Community Health Centers nutritionist Kim Tirapelle said.

But many kids say they need their caffeine fix.

"If I wake up in the morning and don't drink coffee, there'll be times where every two hours, if I don't have coffee, I'll get massive headaches and I can't really function correctly," 18-year-old Daniel Knowles said.

"When I don't have caffeine, I'm usually falling asleep and not paying attention in class," 16-year-old Rafael Salazar said. "And when I am drinking coffee, I'm really awake and paying attention."

Salazar says about half his classmates at Fresno High School are dosing up on caffeine, many grabbing energy drinks, especially when they hit the playing field.

Teens say caffeine gives them an energy boost. School nurses say that's trouble waiting to happen.

"It really isn't the preferred drink to give somebody before they go out and play a really hard soccer game, because it's a diuretic and the combination of sweating and the effects of a diuretic can increase the potential of dehydration," Prandini said.

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