Rising stroke rates in young adults: Are energy drinks to blame?

By Claire Wolters | Fact-checked by Davi Sherman
Published May 29, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Energy drinks have been linked to sometimes dangerous changes in the heart 

  • Afib, high blood pressure, and irregular heartbeats are just some of the many risks these drinks can pose. These can also be risk factors for stroke. 

  • To avoid heart harm, educate patients on energy drink risks and encourage them to limit energy drink consumption.

Energy drinks can affect the heart—and not in a good way. At times, these concoctions have been linked to emergency room visits and deaths.[] Studies show that consuming energy drinks can lead to changes in blood pressure and heart rate and that they may increase the risks of developing severe heart issues such as stroke.  

Stroke prevalence has been high in the US—it’s the nation’s leading cause of death—with case numbers increasing over the last few years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stroke prevalence among adults aged 18–64 years increased by 7.8% between reports from 2011–2013 and 2020–2022.[] 

The exact connections between energy drink consumption and stroke risks are understudied. To stay ahead of the unknown, researchers and health organizations advise consumers to limit their energy drink consumption. They also encourage doctors to have conversations with patients about the known and potential risks of these beverages, and to encourage healthy limits.[]

Research on energy drinks and the heart

While research on energy drinks—and stroke, specifically—is limited, a handful of studies evaluate energy drinks’ impacts on the heart.

Energy drink study

A 2019 study in Journal of the American Heart Association (AHA) is the largest study to evaluate the impact of energy drinks on healthy individuals.[] The study included 34 healthy participants between the ages of 18 and 40. Participants were asked to drink 32 ounces of an energy drink or placebo within one hour over the course of 3 days. Using an electrocardiogram, the researchers charted the heart’s QTc interval—along with other metrics—to assess any changes. They concluded that the energy drinks impacted the heart by significantly prolonging the QTc interval and raising blood pressure.

The risk of stroke in people with prolonged QTc interval is almost three times the risk than those with normal QTc interval.[] Additionally, for people with acute ischemic, research has found prolonged QTc intervals to be predictors of early mortality.[] 

High blood pressure can increase a person’s risk for stroke by leading to blood clots in the brain, damaging vessels in the brain, and increasing risks of bleeding in the brain.[]

Study on Redbull and the heart 

A 2023 study found that people who consumed the energy drink Red Bull experienced decreases in the velocities of their carotid and middle cerebral arteries as well as a decrease in cardiac output and heart rate.[] Some of these changes can also be associated with stroke.

Studies on energy drinks and Afib

Other research has noted cases in which teenagers developed atrial fibrillation (AFib) after consuming unknown quantities of energy drinks.[] People with AFib have a three to five times greater risk for stroke.[] They may also have multiple strokes, including silent strokes.[] 

The study authors noted that the risks may be more closely linked to mass consumption of energy drinks rather than the ingredients of one specific formula and emphasized the importance of educating people—particularly adolescents—on adhering to limits when consuming caffeinated beverages.[] 

“Given the possibility of cardiac arrhythmias and other untoward effects developing from caffeine use and abuse, further clinical trials reviewing the physiological effects and addictive potential for children and adolescents should be pursued, given the paucity of caffeine literature in this age group,” the researchers wrote. “Perhaps future studies could evaluate serum caffeine levels in pediatric patients who present with arrhythmias and concurrent caffeine consumption; this may be a useful measure to quantify into a risk model, should this correlation continue to be observed.”

Recommended limits on energy drinks and caffeine

Health organizations in the US have yet to set a recommended limit for caffeine intake for consumers and drink manufacturers. For now, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day—or about four or five cups of coffee—is generally safe for adults.[] For children between the ages of 12 and 18, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) recommends sticking to 100 milligrams or fewer (about two cans of cola) daily. For children under 12, the AACAP says, caffeine is not recommended at all.

When it comes to energy drinks, health organizations are even more cautious. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discourages children and adolescents from consuming energy drinks altogether. Additionally, the CDC asks parents, staff, teachers, coaches, and community members to educate younger people on the risks of energy drinks and to model healthy behaviors such as avoiding these substances.[]

What this means for you

Energy drinks can be harmful to the heart, and overconsumption can put people at risk for severe heart issues like AFib or stroke. Encourage adult patients to limit their energy drink consumption and advise adolescents to steer clear from energy drinks altogether.

Share with emailShare to FacebookShare to LinkedInShare to Twitter