Encyclopedia

Radiation sickness

Radiation sickness is a disease characterized by damage to the body caused by large doses of radiation, often taking such amounts occurs in a short period of time, then there is the acute form of the clinical condition.

The amount of radiation absorbed by the body, or the dose taken, determines how ill a person will get.

Radiation sickness is also called acute radiation syndrome or radiation poisoning. Frequent exposures to low doses of radiation, such as in radiation therapy procedures or computed tomography scans, do not cause radiation poisoning.

Although acute radiation syndrome is a severe and often fatal illness, it is rare.

After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, during World War II, most cases of the disease developed immediately after major nuclear industrial accidents, such as the 1986 Chernobyl or the 2011 earthquake, which caused a very large failure at the Fukushima nuclear power plant on the east coast of Japan.

What are the symptoms?

The severity of the clinical manifestations is determined by how much radiation the body has absorbed.

How much the body will absorb depends on the intensity of the radiated energy, as well as the distance to the source of the radiation.

Signs and symptoms also appear depending on the type of exposure – whether all or part of the body is exposed, whether the radiation contamination is internal or external, and how sensitive the affected tissue is to radiation.

For example, the digestive system and bone marrow are highly sensitive to radiation contamination.

Absorbed dose and duration of exposure

Radiation absorbed by the body is measured in a unit called Gray (Gy). In diagnostic tests that use X-rays, the radiation is less than 0.1 Gy and it is focused only on certain organs.

Clinical manifestations of ORS usually occur when the whole body absorbs an amount of radiation of at least 1 Gy.

When the total body volume absorbed is more than 6 Gy, then the affected person cannot be treated and usually dies within 2 days to 2 weeks depending on the dose and duration of exposure.

Initial signs and symptoms

The initial clinical manifestations of treatable radiation poisoning are usually nausea and vomiting.

An indicator of how much radiation is absorbed by the body is how long the period is between exposure and the onset of initial symptoms.

After some subsidence of the initial signs and symptoms, the syndrome enters a latent phase, which is followed by the appearance of new, much more serious clinical manifestations.

• When exposed to light radiation pollution, absorption by the body of 1-2 Gy, nausea and vomiting appear after about 6 hours, and a feeling of weakness and constant fatigue appears within about 4 weeks.

At exposure to moderate radiation and absorption of 2-6 Gy, nausea and vomiting begin after about 2 hours, diarrhea develops after 8 hours, headache within 24 hours, body temperature increases after about 3 hours.

Among the late symptoms of OSR are fatigue, lethargy, hair loss, vomiting blood and the appearance of blood in the stool, and low blood pressure which develop after 1-4 weeks.

Treatment of radiation sickness

The goals of treatment are to remove the source of radioactive contamination; to start treatment for life-threatening injuries, such as burns and trauma, to relieve the symptoms of the disease and control the pain.

Decontamination is also carried out, removing, as far as possible, the external radioactive particles.

Removing clothes and shoes eliminates about 90% of external pollution. Careful washing of the skin with soap and water helps to further remove the radiation particles from the skin.

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