Coffee is a controversial drink. Some say it’s addictive, bad for the heart, can cause certain diseases. Others are pretty sure coffee is beneficial for your heart and prevents developing certain diseases.
Scientists seem to agree that a few cups of plain black coffee daily is good for your heart and has many other benefits. However, drinking too much coffee or adding too much sugar or cream can negate these benefits.
Some people experience unpleasant symptoms after drinking small amounts of coffee. Let’s see what causes these symptoms and what can be done to relieve them.
What is caffeine?
Caffeine is a natural stimulant that can help stimulate the central nervous system and the brain. This helps you to stay alert and can prevent you from feeling so tired.
Actually, caffeine is a (legal) psychoactive drug.
What foods and drinks contain caffeine?
We may know that coffee, tea, and sodas all contain caffeine, there are a few other foods and beverages that contain this ingredient as well. Some examples of caffeine amounts in your favorite foods and beverages include:
- Espresso: Contains between 240 to 720mg of caffeine (depends on the size)
- Coffee: Contains between 102 to 200mg
- Energy drinks: Contains between 50 to 160mg
- Brewed teas: May contain up to 120mg
- Soft drinks: Contain up to 40mg
- Cocoa beverages: Contain up to 7mg
- Dark chocolate: Contains up to 35mg
- Milk chocolate: Contains up to 15mg
- Some drugs – e.g. pain relievers – can also contain high amounts of caffeine, make sure you check the list of ingredients
How much caffeine is too much?
Most symptoms caused by caffeine are related to consuming too much of it. But how much caffeine is too much?
To avoid heart problems, up to 400mg of caffeine a day seems to be safe for healthy adults, that is about 4 small cups or 2 energy drinks.
However, it’s good to check how much caffeine your coffee contains, as some companies offer coffees with very high caffeine content.
Can caffeine & coffee cause chest pain?
Even though it’s not very common coffee and caffeine can cause chest pain. The two main reasons are heart problems and acid reflux.
If you have acid reflux, even one coffee might trigger symptoms, especially if the coffee contains fatty milk or a lot of sugar.
Caffeine-related heart issues are not as common as one might think. Drinking too much caffeine can cause problems, especially for those, who already have an existing heart problem.
Pain in the middle of the chest after drinking coffee
Pain in the center of the chest after drinking coffee might feel like a heart attack, but it rarely is. (check out heart attack symptoms on heart.org)
Unless you had an excessive amount of coffee or already have heart problems, these conditions are more likely to cause chest pain in the middle:
- acid reflux or heartburn
- gallbladder attack
- esophageal spams, if the coffee was very hot or cold
- coffee allergy
The most likely cause is heartburn. If stomach acids flow back into the esophagus and irritate it, you might feel a burning pain. Since the esophagus is around the center of the chest, you might feel this pain in the middle of your chest.
However, be sure to talk to your doctor to diagnose the exact cause.
Right chest pain & caffeine
The most common cause of right side pain after caffeine intake is gas. However, several other conditions can also cause such symptoms, e.g.:
- gallbladder problems
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Symptoms usually only occur after drinking too much coffee.
Left chest pain & caffeine
Caffeine-triggered chest and abdominal pain on the left side is often caused by gas. Since coffee is a colonic stimulant, it can cause gas and bloating.
Sometimes symptoms can be exacerbated by an underlying medical issue. For example, people with diverticulitis are more likely to experience pain in the left side.
Another possible cause of left side pain after caffeine intake is a peptic ulcer. Even though caffeine doesn’t cause ulcers, it can irritate an existing ulcer.
Pancreatitis is another common cause of left side pain, but coffee actually reduces the risk of symptoms.
And, of course, heart problems can also cause left side chest pain:
Can caffeine cause heart pain?
If you are a healthy adult and don’t drink too much coffee too often, then it’s unlikely that you develop cardiovascular problems because of caffeine.
A few small cups of coffee a day should be fine. Try to stay away from the huge cups that contain a lot of cream and sugar besides coffee.
However, too much caffeine might cause a heart attack:
The present case-control study provides evidence for an increased risk of myocardial infarction or unstable angina among individuals drinking more than five cups of coffee per day.(source)
Energy drinks also have high caffeine content, it’s best to avoid them if possible. This is especially if you are a teenager.
Bottom line is to make sure you are aware of the caffeine content of the beverages you are drinking. E.g. a large cup of Starbucks coffee might include close to 100% of the maximum recommended daily caffeine dose.
Is coffee bad for angina?
According to this study, it might have no effect at all.
The acute ingestion of 1 to 2 cups of caffeinated coffee had no deleterious effect on exercise-induced angina pectoris in patients with coronary artery disease.(source)
Even though coffee is unlikely to cause angina, if you have cardiovascular problems, you shouldn’t drink too much, especially not in a short amount of time.
In case of heart problems, you should consult your doctor before drinking coffee.
Can coffee cause acid reflux?
Even though scientific studies about coffee and heartburn have mixed results, experience shows that coffee can cause heartburn.
Caffeinated beverages – coffee, some soft drinks, certain types of teas, etc. – can trigger acid reflux symptoms.
If you drink coffee with fatty milk or sugar or if you drink soda high in sugar, your reflux symptoms might just get worse.
Can coffee cause arm pain?
Pain in either the right, left, or both arms after drinking coffee is usually caused by drinking too much coffee. Several medical conditions might be the underlying cause:
- Cardiovascular issues: usually cause left arm pain, but the right arm might also hurt.
- Acid reflux: arm pain is not typical, but a possible symptom.
- Paresthesia: can cause a weird numbness, tingling. itching in both the arms and legs.
- Caffeine withdrawal: Muscle pain is a possible symptom of this condition.
Can caffeine cause left arm pain?
Most people know that left arm pain is a possible symptom of a heart attack. As mentioned above, too much caffeine might trigger a heart attack or angina and therefore pain in the left arm.
If left arm pain occurs together with other typical heart attack symptoms – chest tightness, dizziness, shortness of breath, etc. – you should immediately get medical help!
It’s good to know that a heart attack sometimes can cause pain in the right arm too, especially for women.
Angina is another possible cause of left arm pain.
Paresthesia & left/right arm pain
Another condition that can trigger pain or a weird feeling – like burning, numbness, tingling, etc. – in either the left, right, or both arms, is paresthesia. This condition can also trigger symptoms in the left, right, or both legs.
According to this study, caffeine can increase the loss of B-vitamins, which alters nerve functions and can be a possible cause of paresthesia.
How to stop chest pain from coffee?
If coffee or caffeine is causing you chest discomfort or other symptoms, it is best to limit your consumption.
However, if you have already had some caffeine and you now experience acid reflux, it is time to take action to reduce the amount of pain you feel in your chest. Some of the best options to use to reduce your acid reflux after consuming caffeine includes:
- Apple cider vinegar can provide quick relief right away.
- Baking soda with lukewarm water.
- Raise the head up in your bed or make sure the upper body is elevated at least a bit to get comfort.
- Avoid tight clothes because they can increase pressure on the stomach.
- Some lavender, ginger, or chamomile tea will help. Make sure it does not contain caffeine and mix with some licorice root powder.
- Probiotics can also help your digestion. You can take them in their natural forms – buttermilk, yogurt – or as tablets.
Unless you drink way too much coffee, coffee-related chest pain should go away in a few hours.
However, if you experience sharp chest pain, the pain radiates into the arm, neck, or shoulders, you should call your doctor right away.
In case caffeine is causing you heart-related problems, you should always talk to your doctor.
If you know you have acid reflux and coffee or caffeine is triggering the symptoms, eliminating or at least radically decreasing the amount of coffee you drink will help.
90% of people in North America drink coffee daily, but only a few of them experience chest or stomach problems. It is not normal, to feel chest pain after drinking coffee, so if you are experiencing such chest discomfort, it is always a good idea to talk to your doctor!
Frequently asked questions
Most people think coffee causes them a heart attack, but it is usually not the case.
It’s good to know the common symptoms of a heart attack, if you are experiencing such symptoms, get medical help right away!
It is usually not your heart that hurts, but some other parts of the body, like your esophagus.
Yes, it can. However, as mentioned above this is probably not related to your heart.
Chances are the chest discomfort is heartburn, caused by stomach acids seeping back into the esophagus and irritating its lining.
Yes, it can, and it is more often than not caused by heartburn, not related to the heart.
A heart attack usually causes a dull, crushing chest pressure or tightness. Heartburn is more likely to cause sharp pain.
With all that said, when in doubt, it’s best to ask for medical help right away!
Probably not. This study concluded: “Coffee consumption was associated with some positive effects on the respiratory system.”
Furthermore, it might help asthma symptoms.
It might be simple indigestion, however certain medical conditions (e.g. acid reflux, angina) can also cause such symptoms.
Costochondritis, the inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone, is a typical cause of rib pain after eating or drinking.
Albeit there is no scientific evidence for this, some people with costochondritis find that their rib pain gets worse after drinking coffee.