Saturday, November 18, 2017
Health

A South Carolina teen dies after caffeine overload, leaving others to wonder: How much caffeine is too much?

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The story of South Carolina's Davis Cripe seems, at first, almost unbelievable:

Authorities said the healthy 16-year-old died in a high school classroom after drinking a large amount of caffeine in a short amount of time.

While the teen died under rare circumstances, Dr. Fadi Matar, a Tampa cardiologist, said adults and teens still need to be aware of the dangerous risks that come with caffeine-packed drinks and "booster" shots.

"It's not common, thank God, because there's a lot of kids, young people, who are using these drinks these days to boost their energy," said Matar, director of the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at Tampa General Hospital. "The problem is that it can cause a rhythmic disturbance in the heart."

That's exactly what Richland County coroner Gary Watts determined: On April 26, Cripe's heart fell out of rhythm after he had a large diet Mountain Dew, a latte from McDonald's and an energy drink within a two-hour span.

"Like all parents we worry about our kids when they grow up — their safety, their health, especially when they start to drive," said Sean Cripe, the boy's father, in a news conference Monday. "But it wasn't a car crash that took his life, it was an energy drink."

Matar said some people can be predisposed to a similar cardiac event without ever being aware of an irregularity. Some, he said, wouldn't even be detectable through an autopsy because the problem "is not structural, but electrical."

"And if they've never had an event, and they take more than what they should in caffeine, that can trigger the event and kill a person," the doctor said.

And even someone who is not predisposed to that condition can still have a similar reaction if their caffeine intake is too high. One can even become intoxicated by caffeine, causing jitters, increased heartbeat, anxiety, insomnia and cardiac arrhythmia.

Matar is especially concerned by energy drinks that are like "booster" shots with high concentrations of caffeine. He advises against their use in general, but said they shouldn't be ingested in addition to coffee.

The USDA allows caffeinated beverages in high schools, but says schools should be cautious about which ones they're selecting to sell. In Pinellas County, students talk about caffeine when they discuss the dangers of other stimulants in class, said school district spokeswoman Lisa Wolf.

Matar encourages parents to talk with their children about caffeine like they would any other drug.

"If I hear my child is having an excessive intake of those 'Monster' drinks ... I'm going to have a chat," he said. "A cup of coffee here or there is fine, but I strongly urge parents to know what their kids are drinking."

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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