Caffeine is used both as an aid to keep patients awake and in the treatment of babies who are suffering from short-term apnea of prematurity.


Caffeine tablets are used for two very different purposes. The first purpose is for alertness as an aid to keep you awake and focused when experiencing unusual tiredness or weakness. This medication is not a replacement for sleep and should be used only as an aid, but is available without a doctor’s prescription from a range of shops and from pharmacists.

The caffeine oral solution is used for the treatment of premature babies who were born between 28 and 32 weeks of gestational age. Where short-term apnea of prematurity occurs, the caffeine solution is used to promote breathing in the baby. Apnea of prematurity occurs because the baby’s breathing centers are not fully developed and is life-threatening if not treated. Caffeine for the treatment of infants is only available as a solution prescribed and administered by the doctor.

The product for adult use is available in a range of forms including:

  • Tablet
  • Extended release capsule
  • Enteric coated tablet
  • Extended release tablet
  • Powder
  • Packet
  • Capsule
  • Chewable tablet

For infants, the treatment is available only as a solution.

Use of caffeine should be undertaken in moderation. Excessive use can cause severe side effects and use can worsen existing medical conditions. Caffeine is not a substitute for sleep and will not make you as alert as you are when you are well rested.

Consider your safety to operate machinery and drive when taking caffeine as your reactions will not be as good as they are when you are rested.

Condition treated

  • Apnea of prematurity
  • Drowsiness
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness

Type of medicine

  • Stimulant

Side Effects

In addition to the required effects of making you more alert and of stimulating breathing in babies, there can also be serious side effects from the use of caffeine. As caffeine is a common stimulant in society, it is easy to underestimate the effects of caffeine, but it can be lethal when it is abused as a substance. In some cases side effects may require that you seek immediate emergency medical assistance. In other cases, side effects will not require medical interaction.

If you experience any of the following then you should seek immediate medical attention:

Occurring commonly:

  • Feeding intolerance

Occurring less commonly:

  • Agitation or restlessness
  • Black stools with appearance of tar
  • Blood in the stools or urine or a darkening of either excretion
  • Bruising
  • Burning feeling in the stomach or general stomach tenderness
  • Chills
  • Coma or loss of consciousness
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Coughing up or vomiting of blood
  • Decreased volume or frequency of urination
  • Depression or unreasonable feelings of sadness
  • Dizziness
  • Faintness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Feverishness
  • Headaches
  • Hostility without cause
  • Indigestion
  • Irritability or annoyance
  • Lethargy or unusual unwillingness to move
  • Lightheadedness
  • Muscle twitches
  • Nausea
  • Persistent bleeding that can’t be sated
  • Rapid or shallow breathing
  • Rapid weight increase
  • Rash with or without lesions
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Severe stomach pains
  • Stomach upset
  • Stupor
  • Swelling around the face, neck, ankles, or hands
  • Troubled breathing
  • Unusual tiredness
  • Unusual weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Vomiting of blood or substance which appears like coffee grounds

If you experience symptoms of overdose then you need to seek emergency medical attention. Symptoms of caffeine overdose can include the following:

  • Irritability or quickness to anger
  • Nervousness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Troubled sleeping or inability to sleep

Other side effects from caffeine use may occur that do not require you to seek medical attention. These side effects can become bothersome and if they do then you should consult your doctor on how to alleviate these side effects. The following side effects would not usually necessitate medical advice being sought:

Occurring commonly:

  • Rash
  • Need for bowel movement immediately after taking tablet

Occurring less commonly:

  • Dryness of the skin

Other side effects that are not listed herein may also occur. If you experience other side effects then you should inform your medical professional.

If you are self-medicating with caffeine and experiencing these effects then you should consider ceasing use altogether. Consult a doctor to seek advice.


If prescribed this medication should be used as directed by your doctor for the condition treated. Changing the doses prescribed to you can be dangerous and can cause unwanted side effects. Do not take this treatment for longer or more frequently than prescribed.

Caffeine medications come with an information leaflet for patients. You should ensure that you read this information and follow the instructions. If you have questions then you should consult your doctor before use.

Tablets should be swallowed whole. Do not crush, break or chew them. Many have coatings that slow the release of the treatment into the body. Breaking this will expose you to a dose too rapidly. Do not take damaged medication.

If you are taking the oral liquid dose follow these instructions:

  • Take your dose at the same time each day.
  • Use a marked measuring device to measure out the liquid. A household spoon will not be accurate.
  • This medication can be given either directly into the mouth or through a feeding tube if one is in place.
  • Dispose of a vial of medication once used. Do not save additional doses from the vial. If there is any visible contamination in the vial or a cloudiness of the liquid then you should dispose of it and not use the dose.

Each patient will receive a different dose of this medication depending on the condition they are having treated and dependant on other factors including weight and age. You should only take the dose as prescribed to you by your medical professional and should not change the frequency of doses or the volume taken without consulting your doctor. The following doses are guidelines only and you should follow the dosing instructions given to you by the doctor:

Solution for treatment of apnea of prematurity:

  • In premature babies – The doctor must determine the dose dependant on weight. This dose would usually be administered daily.

Tablets for mental alertness:

  • In adults and children over the age of 12 – 200 mg not more frequently than once every 3-4 hours per day.
  • Children under the age of 12 – Use not recommended.

If you miss a dose of your prescribed medication then you should take it as soon as possible. If you are close to your next dose, however, then you must skip the dose and return to your usual schedule of treatment. Never take a double dose of this medication.


Certain medications should never be used in conjunction with one another because they can interact and cause severe side effects in the body. In other cases, medications can counteract the effects of one another or they can intensify the side effects caused by the other. Doctors may still prescribe some medications even where an interaction can occur when this is necessary for your treatment. It is vital, however, that you inform your doctor of any other medications that you are taking. The following list is not all-inclusive and other interactions may occur.

The use of caffeine with the following medication is not recommended. Your doctor may wish to change one of the medicines that you are taking:

  • Riociguat

The use of caffeine with the following medicines would not normally be recommended but may be required in some cases. Your doctor may wish to change the dose of one or other of the medications that you are taking:

  • Peginterferon Alfa-2b
  • Pixantrone

Other medical problems from which you might suffer can also affect the use of this medication. Ensure that you inform your doctor of any and all medical conditions that you have or have had in the past before beginning this treatment. This is especially important if you suffer from any of the following:

Do not use caffeine with the following conditions:

  • Anemia
  • Problems of the central nervous system
  • Heart problems
  • Blood vessel problems
  • Lung disease
  • Breathing problems
  • Obstructive apnea
  • Sepsis (an infection of the blood)

Use caution with the following conditions. Caffeine may stay in the body for longer than usual:

  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease

Use with caution with the following conditions. Conditions may be worsened by use:

  • Necrotizing enterocolitis
  • History of seizures


When using this treatment it is important that your doctor checks your progress or your child’s progress thoroughly and regularly. It is for the doctor to decide if you should continue treatment.

In the use of the treatment of apnea:

  • Call your doctor immediately if apnea continues.
  • Call your doctor if the baby has an increased heart rate, is restless, is wetting the diaper more than usual or is shaking.
  • Call your baby’s doctor if your baby is vomiting or has bloody stools.
  • Never change your baby’s dose without consulting your doctor.

In the use of caffeine tablets:

  • Limit your caffeine intake from other sources including food and drink.
  • Check in with your doctor if you remain tired or drowsy after taking this medication.

Consult your doctor before using this treatment when pregnant. Where possible use should be avoided in pregnant women.

There has been shown to be minimal risk from use while breastfeeding. Discuss use with your doctor if you are concerned about this.


This medication should be stored at room temperature out of direct light and away from moisture and heat.

Prevent this medication from freezing.

Do not keep outdated medicine and dispose of medicine that shows signs of contamination.

Do not take tablets that have been crushed or broken.

Ask a medical professional about how you can best dispose of unwanted medication.


Caffeine is used as a medication for two separate conditions. In adults, it is used in tablet form to make the patient more alert and combat drowsiness and tiredness. In premature babies, it is used to combat apnea of prematurity and encourage natural breathing in the infant.

Caffeine is also available in tablet form for adult use without a prescription.

The use of caffeine should be carried out with caution. An overdose of caffeine can have significant side effects on the body and can lead to complications that can be life-threatening. In no circumstances is caffeine a substitute for sleep and it is important to ensure that you are well rested whenever possible.

When taking this medication you should ensure that you are fit to drive and operate machinery before doing so. Caffeine will not increase your reaction rates to the same levels as in a well-rested individual. The use of caffeine can also cause dizziness and disorientation. You should assess the effects of the caffeine on you before beginning to drive or operate any machinery that could put you or anyone else at risk if you were to stop being alert.

When prescribed you should closely follow the doses that your doctor has set out for you.

Caffeine should not be used in patients who have certain medical conditions. In particular, this relates to conditions of the heart, lungs, blood and kidneys. If you have any such conditions then you should discuss these with your doctor before beginning the treatment.

Caffeine is available in a range of forms. For use in adults there is a range of tablets that allow for slow release into the body. In infants, the medication is administered in the form of a solution.

Before taking caffeine when pregnant you should discuss this with your doctor.

There has been shown to be a minimal risk from use when breastfeeding.

When taking caffeine you should control the amount of caffeine that is coming into your body from other sources including from food and drink as this can contribute to an increased dose being taken.

Last Reviewed:
December 25, 2017
Last Updated:
December 22, 2017
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