Radiation Sickness What It Is, Symptoms & Treatment 8th August 2023 – Tags: , , , , ,

With the release of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, the public became interested in the atomic bomb and radiation itself. Remembering the explosion in Hiroshima, we witnessed how a large influx of nuclear radiation affects the human body. Many of us also survived the explosion of the Chernobyl power plant, where a real threat of radiation sickness arose. What are the symptoms of such a disease, and what effects does it leave on the human body?

What is radiation sickness?

Radiation sickness is damage to the body caused by large doses of radiation, often taken in a short time. The amount of radiation received by the body determines the intensity of the disease. It should be mentioned that the disease is not caused by exposure to low doses of radiation during examinations such as X-rays.

Effect of radiation on the body

When exposed to high doses of radiation, DNA is damaged. In detail, the bonds are broken or the water molecules that surround the DNA are broken, which leads to the production of free radicals. Free radicals then lead to cell destruction and organ damage. Exposure to high doses of radiation also increases the risk of various cancers.

What is radiation sickness
What is radiation sickness

The graphic shows a diagram of the further path of DNA after its damage. DNA can be repaired, incorrectly repaired resulting in a mutation, or not repaired.

Symptoms of radiation sickness

How severe a patient’s symptoms are depends on the dose of radiation received. In addition, the symptoms shown depend on the type of radiation exposure – whether the whole body was covered or whether it was a local contact. Different tissues also have a different degree of exposure to radiation intensity – the digestive system, the endocrine system, the reproductive system and the bone marrow are the most exposed.
Initial symptoms may not appear until several hours or weeks after exposure to radiation. However, when a high dose of radiation has been taken, symptoms may appear as early as a few minutes after admission. The first symptoms include

  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Disorientation and dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Hair loss
  • Blood in vomit and stool infections
  • Depressurization

The more serious symptoms of radiation sickness include

  • Bone marrow damage
  • Damage to the digestive system
  • Damage to the cardiovascular system and the nervous system

Phases of radiation sickness

We can distinguish three stages of the disease:

  • Prodromal phase – starts from a few minutes to two days after exposure to radiation. You may feel weak and drowsy, and have nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
  • Latent asymptomatic phase – starts from a few hours to 21 days after exposure to radiation. The patient shows no symptoms.
  • The open phase of systemic disease – starts from a few hours to 60 days after exposure to radiation. The symptoms depend on which organs were affected by the radiation.


Radiation sources

Currently, there is no radiological threat in Poland, so we do not have contact with high irradiation. However, the following are possible sources of radiation that pose a risk due to high doses:

  • An accident at a nuclear power plant
  • Attack on a nuclear industrial facility
  • Detonation of a small radioactive device
  • Detonation of a conventional explosive device that disperses radioactive material.
  • Detonation of a standard nuclear weapon
Effect of radiation on the body

What to do when you are at risk of radiation sickness?

Currently, there is no radiological threat in Poland. Remember not to panic after obtaining information about a possible threat and to follow the instructions of the relevant services. Also, do not try to obtain medicinal products such as potassium iodide for preventive purposes. Medical staff and other services will inform you what to do in an emergency.


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