When 16-year-old Davis Allen Cripe collapsed in a Spring Hill High School classroom last month, people were confused and concerned. The South Carolina teen was rushed to a hospital at the time, but he sadly passed away within two hours of collapsing.
At a Monday news conference, the local coroner, Gary Watts, revealed that Cripe had experienced a "caffeine-induced cardiac event" after drinking a large Diet Mountain Dew (about 135 mg of caffeine), a McDonald's cafe latte (about 142 mg), and an undisclosed energy drink (a typical energy drink contains about 142 mg) over a two-hour period—approximately 419 total mg of caffeine in just 120 minutes.
Ingesting so much caffeine in such a short amount of time led to what the coroner called a "probable arrhythmia"—or an abnormal beating of the heart. "Davis, like so many other kids and so many other people out there today, was doing something [he] thought was totally harmless, and that was ingesting lots of caffeine," [Watts said](https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/05/16/coroner-south-carolina-teen-died-too-much-caffeine/101739718/). "We lost Davis from a totally legal substance."
The teen's father, Sean Cripe, followed up Watts's statements at the news conference by asking parents to educate their children about the potential consequences of consuming too much caffeine. He explained that his son was healthy; the teen advocated against the use of drugs and alcohol, and he didn't have a history of any medical problems. "It wasn’t a car crash that took his life," Cripe said. "It was an energy drink. Parents, please talk to your kids about these energy drinks. And, teenagers and students, please stop buying them."
Caffeine-induced deaths like this are rare but not unheard of.
Since caffeine is a stimulant, it can make the heart beat faster or irregularly. Caffeine also has a diuretic effect—meaning it makes people urinate more frequently. This can cause their potassium levels to drop (they're peeing out the nutrients), which makes it even harder to regulate the heartbeat. Combined, these effects can lead to serious—and potentially fatal—cardiac events, Marcel Casavant, M.D., medical director of the Central Ohio Poison Control Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital, tells SELF.
These dangerous events are characterized by symptoms like an abnormally high heart rate, anxiety, tremors, nausea, and/or vomiting, Casavant says. And if you experience any of them after ingesting a substance (whether it's caffeine or something else), you should stop consuming the substance as soon as this happens.
Caffeine affects people differently, so there’s no one dose that works for everyone.
So let's say you understand the potential dangers of caffeine but still want to enjoy a morning cup of coffee—or two. Where's the line between caffeinating yourself safely and risking something more serious? The truth is, it depends.
Caffeine—like alcohol—impacts different people differently. Two people could ingest the same amount of caffeine and experience different outcomes, based on weight, size, age, gender, maximum heart rate, and potassium levels. Because of all these variables, it's hard to issue a blanket statement about how much caffeine a person can safely drink.
That's why it's so important to limit your caffeine intake, if possible, Casavant says. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that adults consume no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine (that's about four or five cups of coffee) a day. And the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and adolescents consume no caffeine or stimulants whatsoever.
While caffeine overdoses aren’t common, you should still be smart about your caffeine intake.
There are many benefits to drinking coffee (like feeling more alert in the morning, for one thing), but you should still be aware of your total caffeine intake. And remember, caffeine can be hiding in many different foods and drinks—not just coffee and tea. Manufacturers put it in things like energy bars and candy. And it can be hard to estimate how much caffeine is in your cup in the first place, because it can vary so widely from place to place.
So instead of focusing on how much caffeine we can get away with consuming, Casavant thinks we should be asking ourselves why we need to consume the caffeine in the first place. "Why are we caffeinating our kids—and even ourselves?" he says. "We should be asking: Am I getting enough sleep? Is my child's sleep hygiene good, or is it interrupted by devices? Are my kids waking up too early for school? Am I staying up too late for work, play, or some social thing?"
That doesn't mean you have to quit your daily cup of coffee—or feel afraid of it. But it is worth understanding that caffeine, like many substances, can be dangerous in excess.
Our thoughts are with the Cripe family during this time of loss.
If you think you're experiencing symptoms of a caffeine overdose (or have ingested any poison), you should call the poison-control hotline (1-800-222-1222) to get a personalized assessment.
- Here's How Much Caffeine Is in a Cup of Coffee
- 6 Signs You’re Addicted to Caffeine
- How Quitting Coffee Made Me a Morning Person
This story originally appeared on Self.
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