Q&A: caffeine and heart disease

Prof Chris answers a query about caffeine for people with or at-risk of genetic heart disease.

Question: As part of the dietary limitations on a person suffering from a SAD’s, what is the recommended limit of stimulants such as caffeine? Kathy C

Answer from Professor Chris Semsarian:

High levels of caffeine can have negative effects on the heart as it can alter the heart’s rhythm and raise blood pressure.

In the past year, several of my patients have been hospitalised with heart rhythm problems after consuming energy drinks high in caffeine and other additives. Cardiologists in various parts of the world have also reported similar events.

High levels of caffeine, especially when combined with other ingredients like guarana or taurine, can make the heart go faster, leading to very dangerous rhythms that can ultimately cause sudden death.

For someone with an underlying heart condition, this combination of ingredients could have a potentially lethal effect.

It’s also dangerous when a young person or adult doesn’t know they have an underlying heart problem. Drinking the energy drink could unmask the problem with deadly consequences.

People have asked me about whether it’s the same deal with coffee. It doesn’t seem to be the case. I believe this is because, compared to energy drinks, standard coffee is drunk more slowly, it’s lower in caffeine and doesn’t contain potentially harmful additives like taurine.

My verdict

For people with heart problems, especially someone with a heart rhythm disease (e.g. Long QT Syndrome/LQTS, CPVT, Brugada), I suggest avoiding high-caffeine energy drinks altogether and limiting standard coffees to no more than 1-2 per day.

I also suggest the same precautionary measures for anyone who has had a family member – whether it’s a parent, aunt/uncle, cousin, grandparent or great grandparent – who has died suddenly for no apparent reason.

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