Radiation poisoning symptoms, causes and complications

Radiation poisoning symptoms, causes and complications

The radiation poisoning is also called radiation sickness syndrome, radiation sickness, acute radiation syndrome and acute radiation sickness. The damage to your body which is caused by a large dose of radiation often received over a short period of time (acute) is known as radiation poisoning or radiation sickness. The absorbed dose (the amount of radiation absorbed by your body) determines how much sick you will be. It is known that the common exposures to low – dose radiation, such as CT or X – ray examinations do not cause radiation poisoning [1]. The radiation poisoning is serious and often fatal condition but it is rare. After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan that happened during the World War II, the most cases of radiation poisoning happened after nuclear industrial accidents, such as the 1986 fire that had damaged the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl, Ukraine.

Radiation poisoning Symptoms, Causes and Complications

Symptoms: The severity of signs and symptoms of the radiation poisoning are depending on how much radiation you have absorbed and this depends on the strength of the radiated energy and the distance between you and the source of radiation. Also the signs and symptoms of radiation poisoning are affected by the type of exposure, such as partial and total body and whether the contamination is external or internal, and how sensitive to radiation is your affected tissue. The bone marrow and gastrointestinal system are highly sensitive to radiation.

  • Absorbed dose and duration of exposure: Gy (gray) is a unit in which is measured the absorbed dose of radiation. X – ray which is a diagnostic test, use a radiation but it results in small dose of radiation, which is usually below 0.1 Gy and this is focused on a small amount of tissue or a few organs [2]. The signs and symptoms of the radiation poisoning usually appear when the entire body receives an absorbed dose of at least 1 Gy. Those doses which are greater than 10 Gy and who have affected the whole body are generally not treatable and they usually lead to death in a period of 2 days to 2 weeks which depends on the dose and duration of the exposure.
  • Initial signs and symptoms: Vomiting and nausea are the initial signs and symptoms of radiation poisoning which is treatable. How much radiation a person has absorbed is defined by the amount of time between the exposure and when these symptoms develop. After the affected person has passed the first round of signs and symptoms, the affected person has a short period with no apparent illness that is followed by the onset of new and more – serious symptoms. Your symptoms will be more rapid and more severe as you have greater exposure.

Radiation poisoning symptoms, causes and complications

Radiation poisoning Symptoms, Causes and Complications

Causes: The energy that is released from atoms as either a tiny particle or wave is called radiation. The radiation poisoning is caused by the exposure to a high radiation, such as the high dose of radiation that is received during the industrial accident. The X – ray exams that is low – dose radiation is not causing radiation sickness. Here are sources of high – dose radiation:

  • Detonation of a standard nuclear weapon
  • Detonation of a conventional explosive device that disperses radioactive material (dirty bomb)
  • Detonation of a small radioactive device
  • An attack of a nuclear industrial facility
  • An accident at a nuclear industrial facility [3]

The radiation poisoning is happening when the high – energy radiation destroys or damages certain cells in your body. The cells lining of your intestinal tract, including the stomach and the blood cell – producing cells of the bone marrow are regions of the body which are most vulnerable to high – energy radiation.

Complications: There are some studies in which are said that the radiation exposure can cause immediate radiation sickness which is increasing the risk of the affected person of developing cancer or leukemia later in the life [3]. Also if you have radiation poisoning, it can lead to long – term and short – term mental health problems, such as anxiety, fear and grief about:

  • Worrying about the eventual risk of cancer due to radiation exposure [3,4]
  • Dealing with the uncertainty of a mysterious and potentially fatal illness
  • Mourning friends or family who have not survived
  • Experiencing a radioactive accident [5] or attack


[1] Siegel JA, Sacks B, Pennington CW, Welsh JS. Dose optimization to minimize tadiation risk for children undergoing CT and nuclear medicine imaging is misguided and detrimental. Journal of Nuclear Medicine. 2017;58(6):865.

[2] Garau MM, Calduch AL, Lopez EC. Radiobiology of the acute radiation syndrome. Reports of Practical Oncology and Radiotherapy. 2011;16(4):123–30.

[3] Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Radiation and incidence of cancer around Ontario nuclear power plants from 1990 to 2008 (The RADICON Study). 2017. Retrieved from www.nuclearsafety.gc.ca/eng/resources/health/health-studies/radicon-study.cfm.

[4] Leuraud K, Richardson DB, Cardis E, et al. Ionising radiation and risk of death from leukaemia and lymphoma in radiation-monitored workers (INWORKS): an international cohort study. The Lancet Hematology. 2015;2(7):PE276-81.

[5] United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. The Chernobyl accident. 2012. Retrieved from www.unscear.org/unscear/en/chernobyl.html.



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