How Caffeinated Energy Drink Triggered Teen’s Heart Problem
For a teenage boy in England, drinking one highly caffeinated beverage at the gym set off a heart problem he didn’t know he had, according to a new report of his case.
The boy’s heart began racing, so the 17-year-old went to the emergency room, but his cardiovascular exam looked normal, as did a chest X-ray and routine blood tests. Doctors gave him drugs to slow his heart rate, but the medications instead caused his blood pressure to drop and led to a state called atrial fibrillation, making his heartbeat irregular and chaotic.
A cardiologist then gave the teenager an electric shock, which dramatically improved the boy’s symptoms and blood pressure. And an electrocardiogram (EKG) revealed the problem: there was an extra electrical circuit in the boy’s heart.
The human heart typically has one electrical pathway, and the impulses travel along it through the organ’s center from its top to its bottom. But in people with a condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome, the heart also has another electrical connection, along its side.
This extra circuit stimulates the heart “in a way that is not the normal pattern,” said Dr. Nicholas Skipitaris, the director of electrophysiology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who was not involved in the boy’s case.
Symptoms of the condition include light-headedness, dizziness or feeling faint, but the most common sign is rapid heartbeat. “People can say, ‘My heart is beating out of my chest,” or ‘I feel my heart beating in my throat,’” Skipitaris told Live Science.
In some people, the extra circuit is so weak that the condition doesn’t cause any real problems. People who do have problems usually discover they have the condition during adolescence, and have it treated before adulthood, Skipitaris said.
The extra pathway means that the heart muscle may not always contract downward as it should, and push blood from the upper chambers toward the lower chambers. “It can conduct upward too, from the lower chambers back up,” said Dr. Mohan Viswanathan, a cardiologist with Stanford University’s Cardiovascular Medicine Clinic, who was also not involved in the case.
People with WPW syndrome often don’t show symptoms, but stimulants can easily drive up their heart rate. In the boy’s case, the energy drink likely caused the heart palpitations, but the condition can also be triggered by dehydration, weight loss drugs that increase adrenaline or taking cocaine, Viswanathan said.
About 1 to 3 people per 1,000 people have the syndrome. Less than 0.6 percent of people with the syndrome are at risk of sudden cardiac death, the study reported.
After learning that he had WPW syndrome, the teenager underwent several electrophysiological studies and then surgery to turn off the extra circuit in his heart.
“It’s like taking a wire you don’t want to function anymore, and cutting it so the wire can no longer conduct electricity,” Skipitaris said.
In the 1960s and 1970s, people with WPW syndrome underwent open-heart surgery. These days, the procedure is less risky, and involves slipping a thin tube called a catheter into the heart through a vein in the groin. The catheter delivers radio frequency waves that deaden or cauterize the area with heat, Viswanathan said.
“It usually takes less than 20 seconds once we get to the right spot,” Viswanathan said. “Low and behold, the moment it’s gone, the EKG changes into a normal EKG.”
The study was published Wednesday (Sept. 24) in the journal BMJ Case Reports.
Heart of the Matter: 7 Things to Know About Your Ticker
The heart is a vital organ that pumps blood through the body, and is part of the body’scirculatory system. It is capable of some seemingly amazing feats you may not be aware of. Here are seven things you should know about the heart.
The heart can beat on its own
The heart does not need a brain, or a body for that matter, to keep beating. The heart has its own electrical system that causes it to beat and pump blood. Because of this, the heart can continue to beat for a short time after brain death, or after being removed from the body. The heart will keep beating as long as it has oxygen.
The heart beats about 100,000 times a day
Your heart is a busy organ. The human heart beats about 100,000 times a day, which adds up to about 3 billion beats over an average lifetime. The blood that your heart pumps could travel about 60,000 miles through blood vessels. That’s the distance your blood vessels would cover if laid out, end to end.
More women than men die from heart disease
Although heart disease is often stereotyped as a condition that afflicts men, slightly more women than men in the U.S. have died from the condition each year over the past three decades, according to the American Heart Association. For example, in 2009, heart disease was responsible for 401,495 deaths in U.S. women, and 386,436 deaths in U.S. men, the AHA says.
Heart rate is individual
A person’s heart rate, or the number of times the heart beats per minute, depends on many factors, including age, fitness level, body size and medication. Resting heart rate for adults is typically between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
Blood pressure is two numbers
Blood pressure is not a single measurement, but two: systolic pressure, or the pressure when the heart beats, and diastolic pressure, or the pressure when the heart rests between beats. It is typically written as systolic pressure (top number) over diastolic pressure (bottom number). Normal systolic blood pressure is below 120, and normal diastolic pressure is below 80.
Blood pressure should be taken in both arms
Although the American Heart Association recommends that people have their blood pressure measured in both arms at their first visit with a doctor, most people have their blood pressure taken in just one arm.
Studies suggest that taking a blood pressure measurement in both armsmay better help determine heart disease risk. In one recent study, people who had different blood pressure readings in their right versus left arm were at increased risk for heart problems over a 13-year period.
Death of spouse can increase risk of heart attack
A recent study found that older adults who had lost their partner were about twice as likely to experience a heart attack or stroke during the month following their partner’s death compared with people who had not lost their partner.
The study results support previous research suggesting that major life events, including the death of a spouse, can lead to a temporary increase in the risk for heart problems.
Some studies have suggested that people who are grieving experience short-term changes in blood pressure, stress hormone levels and factors that help with blood clotting.