Radiation Injuries - Symptoms

A great deal of research was conducted on people who survived the atomic bomb explosions in Japan in 1945. From that research, we know what effect large doses of IR have on people. Those effects include:

  • 1–2 Sv: Vomiting, loss of appetite, and generalized discomfort. These symptoms usually disappear in a short time.
  • 2–6 Sv: Good chance for survival, provided the patient is given blood transfusions and antibiotics.
  • 6–10 Sv: Massive destruction of bone marrow. If bone marrow is destroyed, the body cannot produce new blood cells. The patient usually dies in less than two months from infection or uncontrolled bleeding.
  • 10–20 Sv: Destruction of intestinal tissue, causing serious digestive problems. The patient usually dies within three months from vomiting, diarrhea, infection, and starvation.
  • More than 20 Sv: Massive damage to the nervous system and the circulatory (heart and blood vessels) system. The patient usually dies within a few days.

The most severe symptoms are very rare. They have been seen only in atomic bomb blasts and the most serious nuclear power plant accidents.

Far more commonly, doctors see symptoms of exposure to much lower levels of radiation. These symptoms most often appear in the form of cancer. Cancers (see cancer entry) develop when the number of cells damaged by IR gradually increases over time. Cells begin to grow out of control and spread throughout the body. Ionizing radiation is believed to be responsible for about 3 percent of all human cancers. The most common forms of cancer caused by IR are leukemia and cancers of the thyroid, brain, bone, breast, skin, stomach, and lungs (see breast cancer, leukemia, lung cancer, and skin cancer entries).

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