Other Names: Acute radiation syndrome or Radiation poisoning.
Radiation sickness is damage to our body caused by a large dose of radiation often received over a short period of time (acute). The amount of radiation absorbed by the body — the absorbed dose — determines how sick we will be. It is not caused by common imaging tests that use low-dose radiation, such as X-rays or CT scans.
Radiation sickness is serious and often fatal, but it is very rare. Since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, during World War II, most cases of radiation sickness have occurred after nuclear industrial accidents, such as the 1986 explosion and fire that damaged the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl, Ukraine.
The amount of radiation our body gets is measured in an international unit called a sievert (Sv). Symptoms of radiation sickness show up when we are exposed to levels of more than 500 millisieverts (mSv), or half a sievert. More than 4 to 5 Sv is likely to be fatal. The workers who got radiation sickness at Chernobyl received doses that measured 700 mSv to 13 Sv.
Natural radiation is everywhere — in the air, the water, and materials like brick or granite. You typically get only about 3 mSv — three one-thousandths of a sievert — of radiation from these natural sources in a year.
Man-made sources of radiation from things like X-rays add about another 3 mSv. A CT (computerized tomography) scan, which involves several X-rays taken from different angles, delivers about 10 mSv. People who work in the nuclear industry aren’t allowed to be exposed to more than 50 mSv a year.
Early symptoms of ARS typically includes nausea and vomiting, headaches, fatigue, fever, and a short period of skin reddening. These symptoms may occur at radiation doses as low as 0.35 grays (35 rad). These symptoms are common to many illnesses, and may not, by themselves, indicate acute radiation sickness
Classically acute radiation syndrome is divided into three main presentations: hematopoietic, gastrointestinal, and neurological/vascular. These syndromes may or may not be preceded by a prodrome. The speed of onset of symptoms is related to radiation exposure, with greater doses resulting in a shorter delay in symptom onset. These presentations presume whole-body exposure and many of them are markers that are not valid if the entire body has not been exposed. Each syndrome requires that the tissue showing the syndrome itself be exposed. The gastrointestinal syndrome is not seen if the stomach and intestines are not exposed to radiation. Some areas affected are:
Hematopoietic. This syndrome is marked by a drop in the number of blood cells, called aplastic anemia. This may result in infections due to a low amount of white blood cells, bleeding due to a lack of platelets, and anemia due to too few red blood cells in the circulation. These changes can be detected by blood tests after receiving a whole-body acute dose as low as 0.25 grays (25 rad), though they might never be felt by the patient if the dose is below 1 gray (100 rad). Conventional trauma and burns resulting from a bomb blast are complicated by the poor wound healing caused by hematopoietic syndrome, increasing mortality.
Gastrointestinal. This syndrome often follows absorbed doses of 6–30 grays (600–3,000 rad). The signs and symptoms of this form of radiation injury include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain. Vomiting in this time-frame is a marker for whole body exposures that are in the fatal range above 4 grays (400 rad). Without exotic treatment such as bone marrow transplant, death with this dose is common. The death is generally more due to infection than gastrointestinal dysfunction.
Neurovascular. This syndrome typically occurs at absorbed doses greater than 30 grays (3,000 rad), though it may occur at 10 grays (1,000 rad). It presents with neurological symptoms such as dizziness, headache, or decreased level of consciousness, occurring within minutes to a few hours, and with an absence of vomiting. It is invariably fatal.
Radiation is the energy released from atoms as either a wave or a tiny particle of matter. Radiation sickness is caused by exposure to a high dose of radiation, such as a high dose of radiation received during an industrial accident.
Sources of high-dose radiation
Possible sources of high-dose radiation include the following:
- An accident at a nuclear industrial facility
- An attack on a nuclear industrial facility
- Detonation of a small radioactive device
- Detonation of a conventional explosive device that disperses radioactive material (dirty bomb)
- Detonation of a standard nuclear weapon
Radiation sickness occurs when high-energy radiation damages or destroys certain cells in your body. Regions of the body most vulnerable to high-energy radiation are cells in the lining of your intestinal tract, including your stomach, and the blood cell-producing cells of bone marrow.
Having radiation sickness can contribute to both short-term and long-term mental health problems, such as grief, fear and anxiety about:
- Experiencing a radioactive accident or attack
- Mourning friends or family who haven’t survived
- Dealing with the uncertainty of a mysterious and potentially fatal illness
- Worrying about the eventual risk of cancer due to radiation exposure
Diagnosis is typically made based on a history of significant radiation exposure and suitable clinical findings. An absolute lymphocyte count can give a rough estimate of radiation exposure. Time from exposure to vomiting can also give estimates of exposure levels if they are less than 10 Gray (1000 rad)
The treatment goals for radiation sickness are to prevent further radioactive contamination; treat life-threatening injuries, such as from burns and trauma; reduce symptoms; and manage pain.
Decontamination involves removing external radioactive particles. Removing clothing and shoes eliminates about 90 percent of external contamination. Gently washing with water and soap removes additional radiation particles from the skin.
Decontamination prevents radioactive materials from spreading more. It also lowers the risk of internal contamination from inhalation, ingestion or open wounds.
Treatment for damaged bone marrow:
A protein called granulocyte colony-stimulating factor, which promotes the growth of white blood cells, may counter the effect of radiation sickness on bone marrow. Treatment with this protein-based medication, which includes filgrastim (Neupogen), sargramostim (Leukine) and pegfilgrastim (Neulasta), may increase white blood cell production and help prevent subsequent infections.
Treatment for internal contamination:
Some treatments may reduce damage to internal organs caused by radioactive particles. Medical personnel would use these treatments only if you’ve been exposed to a specific type of radiation. These treatments include the following:
- Potassium iodide (ThyroShield, Iosat). This is a nonradioactive form of iodine.
Iodine is essential for proper thyroid function. If you’re exposed to significant radiation, your thyroid will absorb radioactive iodine (radioiodine) just as it would other forms of iodine. The radioiodine is eventually cleared from the body in urine.
If potassium iodide is taken, it may fill “vacancies” in the thyroid and prevent the absorption of radioiodine. Potassium iodide isn’t a cure-all and is most effective if taken within a day of exposure.
- Prussian blue (Radiogardase). This type of dye binds to particles of radioactive elements known as cesium and thallium. The radioactive particles are then excreted in feces. This treatment speeds up the elimination of the radioactive particles and reduces the amount of radiation cells may absorb.
- Diethylenetriamine pentaacetic acid (DTPA). This substance binds to metals. DTPA binds to particles of the radioactive elements plutonium, americium and curium. The radioactive particles pass out of the body in urine, thereby reducing the amount of radiation absorbed.
We may get some Supportive treatment for the following:
- Bacterial infections
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sores or ulcers
A person who has absorbed very large doses of radiation has little chance of recovery. Depending on the severity of illness, death can occur within two days or two weeks. People with a lethal radiation dose will receive medications to control pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. They may also benefit from psychological or pastoral care.
Disclaimer: This information is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advise or help. It is always best to consult with a Physician about serious health concerns. This information is in no way intended to diagnose or prescribe remedies.This is purely for educational purpose.