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Caffeine Overdose: Understanding the harmful effects of excess caffeine

Dr. Ajay KohliNov 18, 2022

While the online space is flooded with information highlighting the benefits of coffee and other caffeinated drinks, excess caffeine can be problematic. Caffeine Overdose is real, though its effects are individualistic. It can put your health at risk, causing sleeping problems, jittery feelings, and dehydration, among other symptoms. Overdosing on caffeine can also lead to dependency over time. Read ahead to know the effects of Caffeine Overdose.

Caffeine Overdose

Contents

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What is caffeine?

Caffeine is a chemical stimulant of the methylxanthine class of psychoactive drugs that is naturally present in tea, coffee, cola nuts, guarana, and over 60 other plants. Some companies also make it artificially and add it to many food products, sports and energy drinks, and medications. It stimulates your central nervous system to have numerous physiological effects on your body, controlling vital functions. For adults, caffeine usually boosts energy, improves alertness, enhances focus, and increases reaction time. But for children, its use has certain downsides, making them more anxious, tired, and moody.

What is Caffeine Overdose?

According to studies, most adults can safely consume up to 400 mg of caffeine per day, equal to 4 cups of freshly brewed coffee. However, the maximum caffeine threshold recommended or tolerated for pregnant women and those with postmenopausal symptoms is no more than 200 milligrams per day. This limit is set at 100 milligrams daily for children. Exceeding this limit can result in Caffeine Overdose. 

But bear in mind that what connotes "too much" varies based on individual tolerance. Some people, for example, have increased caffeine sensitivity and may experience unpleasant symptoms, like overdosing, even when ingesting a small amount of caffeine. At the same time, some can withstand an excessive dose without even experiencing side effects such as unwanted wakefulness.

Effect of Caffeine Overdose on the body

Caffeine's effect on the body differs from person to person and is governed by an individual's age, gender, body weight, general health conditions, and medications. Even so, caffeine impacts your body's metabolism in the following ways.

  • By stimulating your central nervous system, which can make you more alert while helping you to overcome drowsiness and tiredness. Though, in the long term, too much caffeine can cause signs of Caffeine Overdose.

  • By acting as a diuretic to help your body remove extra salt and water through the urine after processing by the liver.

  • By triggering acidity in your stomach, which may cause heartburn and reflux into the oesophagus.

  • By stopping the absorption of calcium, leading to the weakening of bones (osteoporosis). The overdose of caffeine may also trigger muscle twitching.

  • By rushing your heartbeat and increasing your blood pressure.

  • By inducing painful lumps in the breast (fibrocystic disease).

  • By affecting hormonal balance in the body resulting in symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). 

What causes Caffeine Overdose?

Most of the time, Caffeine Overdose happens not because of consuming coffee alone but because of the combination of energy drinks, supplements, and soft drinks, plus coffee or tea. Particularly, dietary supplements or caffeine tablets pose the biggest overdose risk, as they usually contain pure caffeine in liquid or powdered form. The U.S. FDA warns that one teaspoon of caffeine powder is equivalent to 28 cups of coffee, and it is easier to overdose on powdered caffeine than on drinks containing caffeine. 

Symptoms of Caffeine Overdose

Even though the incidence of poisoning or death due to Caffeine Overdose is extremely rare, the severity of symptoms varies. The mild short-term effects that are usually experienced between 5 and 30 minutes after consuming caffeine are as follows.

  • Anxiety

  • Fever

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Dizziness

  • Insomnia (lack of sleep)

  • Diarrhoea

  • Flushed face

  • Feeling of thirst/urination

Some other symptoms may require medical attention. These are as follows.

  • Trembling of hand

  • Irregular heartbeat

  • Fluctuating blood pressure (increased at the beginning of the symptoms and then lowers down)

  • Seizures (fits)

  • Hallucination

  • Chest pain

  • Increased blood sugar

  • Breathing problems

  • Muscle twitching

In severe cases, gobbling a massive dose of caffeine can even result in Rhabdomyolysis (muscle breakdown), sudden cardiac arrest, acute kidney injury, or even death. In young children, the American Academy of Paediatrics recommends avoiding caffeine consumption due to the various unpleasant effects on their bodies. These include the following.

  • Nausea, vomiting

  • Rapid, deep breathing

  • Faster heart rate

  • Moodiness

  • Anxiety

  • High blood pressure

  • Trouble in sleeping

  • Shakiness

Side effects of Caffeine Overdose

When you consume caffeine regularly for the long term, your body develops tolerance to its effects, just as it does for other drugs and alcohol. As a result, you may develop a physical, emotional, and psychological dependence on it and may experience caffeine withdrawal syndrome when you abruptly discontinue its use. These symptoms include the following.

  • Mental fogginess

  • Depressed mood

  • Decreased alertness

  • Headaches

  • Excessive irritability and nervousness

  • Nausea, vomiting

The effect of caffeine withdrawal typically begins within 12 to 24 hours of stopping caffeine use and lasts several days. To break your caffeine addiction, gradually reduce caffeine use, allowing your nervous system to adapt and function without it. 

Treatment for Caffeine Overdose

Caffeine Overdose is a serious problem that can have a wide range of long-term negative consequences. As a result, it is strongly recommended that you seek immediate medical care if your symptoms appear. However, remember that there is no standard treatment for caffeine toxicity, and the approach taken is often determined by your symptoms, overall health, and the circumstances surrounding the ingestion. 

You will be advised to rehydrate yourself by drinking plenty of water if you've mild symptoms. But, if your symptoms are severe, you may be given intravenous fluids to rehydrate and esmolol to prevent rapid heartbeats. Some patients with severe symptoms may also require breathing assistance and electrocardiogram monitoring.

Because activated charcoal prevents caffeine from entering your gut, your doctor may also use it to speedily eliminate excess lingering caffeine in the body.

Diagnosis of Caffeine Overdose

Following the official DSM-5 criteria, any five of the earlier-mentioned symptoms constitute an official Caffeine Overdose diagnosis. 

How can I prevent Caffeine Overdose?

Even though cutting back on caffeine may seem like a daunting task for many coffee enthusiasts, it is still a simple undertaking. You can also avoid caffeine intoxication by being aware of its symptoms. Likewise, knowing the caffeine content of various foods, beverages, and over-the-counter medications is beneficial.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here’s a list of common questions and answers about the effects of caffeine.

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How can I flush caffeine from my body?

After ingesting caffeine, it can stay in your system for up to 4 to 6 hours, and it is impossible to remove caffeine from your system with home remedies. But what you can do is wait and avoid taking caffeinated products. It would be best if you also drink plenty of fluids, exercise often, and eat fibre-rich foods to cope with its side effects.

Why can energy drinks be a problem?

Caffeine is a common ingredient in energy drinks, along with sugars, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. However, each brand has its own caffeine concentration. Many people, especially fitness and health-conscious individuals, consume energy drinks with a mistaken belief that caffeine increases their alertness and endurance. Science, however, has reservations about these claims. Instead, we know that energy drinks are high in caffeine and sugar, contributing to weight gain and worsening diabetes. When young people mix energy drinks with alcohol, the problem becomes even more dangerous as caffeine impairs your capacity to comprehend how drunk you are, making you drink more and leading to disastrous consequences.

What are the benefits of caffeine?

Because coffee is the most common source of caffeine, several studies have shown that it is high in dietary antioxidants, such as polyphenols, which may help to prevent disease-causing inflammation. Some evidence even suggests that it may play a role in lowering all-cause mortality. Moreover, increased caffeine consumption can sometimes result in weight loss and a lower BMI. Nevertheless, be aware of the downfalls of caffeine use, as everyone responds differently to caffeine.

Does "decaffeinated" coffee or tea contain caffeine?

Compared to their regular counterparts, decaf coffees and teas have less caffeine content. However, this means they are not caffeine free. For example, an average 250 ml cup of decaf coffee contains 2-15 milligrams of caffeine. 

What is the prognosis for Caffeine Overdose?

Prognosis for Caffeine Overdose depends on how fast the treatment has been implemented. In severe cases, though, death may result either from convulsions or an irregular heartbeat.

References

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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