By Brenda Goodman
WebMD Health News
A South Carolina teen who collapsed in a high school classroom last month died from a heart rhythm problem brought on by drinking too much caffeine, too fast.
Davis Allen Cripe, 16, died after drinking a McDonald’s latte, a large Mountain Dew, and an energy drink—all within about two hours, according to Richland County Coroner Gary Watts.
How much caffeine is that? It’s hard to tell because we don’t know exactly what he drank, but it is possible to get a rough guesstimate.
According to the website Caffeine Informer, a McDonald’s latte can have as much as 178 milligrams of caffeine, depending on size. There are 91 milligrams of caffeine in a 20-ounce Mountain Dew, and a single energy drink can contain anywhere from 80 to 350 milligrams, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. That means he could have downed as much as 626 milligrams of caffeine in a relatively short span of time.
The FDA says up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day is safe for most healthy adults.
Cripe had no pre-existing heart condition, Watts said at a news conference on Monday.
Watts told Reuters that Cripe had not overdosed. Instead, he said it was chugging an unnamed energy drink on the heels of the other caffeine-containing beverages that had likely caused the trouble.
“Parents, please talk to your kids about the dangers of these energy drinks,” said Davis’s father, Sean Cripe, at a news conference. “Teenagers and students, please stop buying them. There’s no reason to consume them. They can be very dangerous.”
We asked two cardiologists, John Mandrola, MD and Steve Nissen, MD, what parents need to know about Cripe’s death. Mandrola is a cardiac electrophysiologist in Louisville, KY, and Nissen is a cardiologist from the Cleveland Clinic.
WebMD: What happened to this teenager?
Mandrola: The coroner is saying that the stimulant effects of caffeine caused him to have an abnormal heartbeat, which caused him to die.
WebMD: People have been surprised that three drinks could have brought this on. Is that surprising to you?
Mandrola: My gut feeling is that it wasn’t anywhere near the lethal dose. Different people can have different sensitivities to caffeine, which is true. But as a doctor who studies the electrical activity of the heart, I would be surprised if there weren’t other important contributing factors here.
WebMD: How much caffeine is too much?
Nissen: First of all, modest amounts of caffeine are not known to be hazardous. The problem here wasn’t the latte and it wasn’t the soft drink. The problem was the energy drink. Energy drinks, depending on the brand, have very large amounts of caffeine. They don’t disclose how much caffeine is in them, which is a very serious problem. Some of them have been tested and can have the equivalent of 5 or more caffeinated drinks. I personally think we need much tighter regulation of these energy drinks.
WebMD: Are adolescents and kids more sensitive to caffeine than adults?
Nissen: Not to my knowledge. It would depend on body weight. If this was an adult-sized person, his age probably didn’t have much to do with it. If the teen is smaller, then that could be a different story.
WebMD: What are the signs that someone has had too much caffeine?
Nissen: You’re going to be very anxious and jittery, etc. If you start having heart palpitations, it’s probably a good idea to get to the hospital. If you’re in an emergency care setting, you can be resuscitated.