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Radiation sickness
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Radiation sickness

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Radiation sickness occurs from exposure to a large amount of radiation. The exposure may be in a series of doses spread over time (chronic) or in a single large dose (acute). Radiation exposure may be accidental or intentional.

The two main types of radiation are penetrating (ionizing) and nonpenetrating (nonionizing). Penetrating radiation affects you by entering your body and depositing radioactive energy into your tissues, which then can cause cell damage or cell death. Nonpenetrating radiation doesn't pass through your skin. A large dose of penetrating radiation may kill bone marrow cells, while a large dose of nonpenetrating radiation may burn your skin.

Radiation is a cancer-causing agent (carcinogen). Exposure to radiation can increase your risk of cancer. Large doses of radiation can cause other adverse health effects, including cataracts and mental retardation in the children of mothers exposed during pregnancy.

Complications

Large doses of radiation can cause extensive damage to your cells and result in cell death. For example, radiation therapy uses large doses of radiation to kill cells in tumors. With exposure to smaller doses, you or a particular organ of yours may survive, but the cells may be damaged, increasing your risk of developing cancer later. The extent of damage depends on the total amount of energy absorbed, the time period and dose rate of exposure, the particular organs exposed, and the amount of cellular repair. Cells can repair most of the damage caused by small doses of radiation.

Complications of radiation sickness vary depending on the type of exposure:

  • Acute exposure. In most cases, a large single dose of radiation can cause both immediate and delayed effects. Acute exposure, if large enough, can cause rapid development of radiation sickness that may include bone marrow depression, gastrointestinal disorders, bacterial infections, hemorrhaging, anemia and loss of body fluids. Delayed effects can include cataracts, temporary infertility and cancer. Extremely high levels of acute radiation exposure can result in death within a few hours, days or weeks depending on the dose.

  • Chronic exposure. Chronic radiation exposure often produces effects that can be observed within weeks after the initial exposure. But signs and symptoms of chronic radiation exposure may not show up until years after the exposure. The effects of chronic exposure may include increased risk of cancer, precancerous lesions, benign tumors, cataracts, skin changes and congenital defects.

Radiation sickness > 1 > 2 > 3 > 4

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Last Modified : 03/15/08 02:02 AM