Caffeine poisoning can occur when a person consumes a dangerous level of the drug in the form of coffee, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate, or medications. Caffeine is a stimulant that increases activity in the central nervous system and dilates blood vessels in the body. In small doses, it can provide a positive, temporary increase in alertness. Overdosing on the substance, however, may result in headaches, tremors, confusion, and other negative side effects. Seizures, coma, and even death can occur in severe cases of caffeine poisoning.
There is not a precise, universal amount of caffeine that is toxic to everybody. A person's age, weight, health, and history with the substance are all factors in determining just when the effects of caffeine poisoning might take place. Consuming more than 500 milligrams of caffeine, approximately the amount found in six cups of coffee, is considered to be dangerous for most adults. Children and infants can develop symptoms of caffeine poisoning at much lower doses. It is generally believed that taking more than 10 grams of caffeine in a short period of time will more than likely be fatal.
The first symptoms of caffeine poisoning may include lightheadedness, anxiety, and an increased heart rate. A person may have gastrointestinal problems as well, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. If more caffeine is introduced into the body, an individual can develop chest pains, mental confusion, hand and leg tremors, and heart palpitations. It is possible to have a seizure or slip into a coma when the body becomes overwhelmed with the stimulant.
If a person shows signs of caffeine poisoning, it is vital to seek emergency medical care. Paramedics or emergency room personnel can assess breathing, heart rate, and brain activity and provide the appropriate treatment to stabilize vital signs. Patients are often given intravenous fluids and charcoal tablets to counter the toxicity of caffeine in their systems. A stomach pump may be necessary to remove large amounts of liquid. Additional medications and clinical techniques may be necessary to lower heart rate and prevent seizures.
Caffeine poisoning is almost always preventable. A person should take note of just how much caffeine he or she is consuming when drinking coffee, tea, soda, or energy drinks to avoid an overdose. It is important to follow dosing instructions carefully on over-the-counter and prescription drugs that contain caffeine. Finally, chocolates and pills should be kept out of the reach of young children and infants at all times.