You might expect to be short of breath while exercising or climbing a flight of stairs, but could your favorite morning brew or energy drink with caffeine cause shortness of breath? Although it's not a common side effect, you might be worried about a caffeine sensitivity and shortness of breath.
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Caffeine may cause you to feel short of breath if you have certain conditions such heart disease that are worsened by too much caffeine.
Caffeine and Shortness of Breath
In general, consuming a moderate amount of caffeine should result in minimal side effects. A moderate amount is considered anything well below the maximum recommended level of caffeine, which is 400 milligrams per day, according to the Cleveland Clinic. That said, some people are more sensitive to caffeine, especially in higher doses.
Ingesting more caffeine than is recommended could pose problems for someone with heart disease, says Harvard Health Publishing. That's because high levels of caffeine, or a caffeine overdose, can temporarily raise your heart rate and blood pressure, which may cause shortness of breath.
This temporary increase in your heart rate may be a result of a heart rhythm disorder called tachycardia, which causes your heart to beat faster than normal while at rest, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Some of the more common symptoms of tachycardia include shortness of breath, lightheadedness, rapid pulse rate, chest pain and heart palpitations. Several things can cause tachycardia, including sudden stress, high or low blood pressure and drinking too many caffeinated beverages.
Read more: Long-Terms Effects of Caffeine
Safe Caffeine Consumption
If you're in good health and don't react strongly to caffeine in a negative way, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says you can enjoy up to 400 milligrams per day. To get a better idea of how much caffeine that is, an 8-ounce cup of coffee has 80 to 100 milligrams of caffeine and a 12-ounce soft drink has 30 to 40 milligrams. On the higher end, some energy drinks can contain up to 250 milligrams of caffeine per 8-ounce serving.
While all of those drinks fall within the acceptable range for consumption, it's the accumulation of caffeine over the course of a day that really matters. Additionally, if you're sensitive to caffeine or you experience a caffeine overdose, knowing the red flags that indicate a problem is critical.
The FDA lists several side effects related to an over-consumption of caffeine including, fast heart rate, insomnia, jitters, anxiousness, upset stomach, nausea and headache. These side effects can surface shortly after you drink or eat caffeine or take a supplement with caffeine. That's because when you ingest caffeine, at any level, it reaches maximum plasma concentration 15 to 120 minutes after consumption, according to a May 2017 study published in Frontiers of Psychiatry.
In other words, the effects of caffeine become noticeable anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours after eating or drinking a product containing caffeine. However, the study also pointed out that some people may feel effects for up to six hours.
When to See a Doctor
Shortness of breath is not something to take lightly, especially if you have a medical condition that causes breathing problems. This includes asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), obesity, lung cancer, allergic reaction and pneumonia.
Avoiding caffeine is one small step you can take to lessen the symptoms. But if you continue to have breathing problems even after you quit caffeine, it might be time to see your doctor. The American Lung Association recommends a visit to your doctor if shortness of breath is not expected, comes on suddenly, is chronic or interferes with daily activities.
Finally, if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms while you are short of breath, the Mayo Clinic says to seek emergency medical care immediately:
- Chest pain
- Change of mental alertness
- Fainting or a bluish tinge to your lips or nails
- Unusual fatigue
- Swollen ankles and feet
- Wheezing and coughing
- Shortness of breath at rest
- Frontiers of Psychiatry: "The Safety of Ingested Caffeine: A Comprehensive Review"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much?"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The Buzz About Caffeine and Health"
- Mayo Clinic: "Tachycardia"
- The Cleveland Clinic: "Caffeine and Breaking the Habit"
- American Lung Association: "Shortness of Breath Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors"
- Mayo Clinic: "Shortness of Breath When to See a Doctor"