About radiation syndromes
What is radiation syndromes?
Radiation sickness describes the harmful effects--acute, delayed, or chronic--produced by exposure to ionizing radiation. An observable effect due to radiation exposure becomes quite certain after a single dose of several hundred rads. As a rule, large doses of radiation are of concern because of their immediate effects on the body (somatic), while low doses are of concern because of the potential for possible late somatic and long-term genetic effects. The effects of radiation exposure on an individual are cumulative.
Although there is currently no treatment to repair cells that have already been damaged by radiation, the FDA has recently approved drugs that are very effective at removing radioactive elements from the body. Because the damage is irreversible, patients exposed to radiation that are experiencing symptoms should seek medical help immediately so that drugs can be administered.
The first observable cases of radiation sickness occurred after the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japanese doctors described an unknown disease with symptoms that "suddenly appeared in certain patients with no apparent injuries." It is now known that these first patients were suffering delayed effects of radiation exposure. Radiation sickness can result in patients with low exposure levels, such as cancer treatments, and leave them with symptoms similar to a case of the flu. However, in cases of extreme exposure caused from atomic weapons or a power plant meltdown, such as Chernobyl, the effects can be fatal.
Total dose and dose rate determine somatic or genetic effects of radiation. The units of measurement commonly used in determining radiation exposure or dose are the roentgen, the rad, and the rem. The roentgen (R) is a measure of quantity of x or gamma ionizing radiation in air. The radiation absorbed dose (rad) is the amount of energy absorbed in any substance from exposure, and applies to all types of radiation. The R and the rad are nearly equivalent in energy for practical purposes. The rem is used to correct for the observation that some types of radiation, such as neutrons, may produce more biological effect for an equivalent amount of absorbed energy; thus the rem is equal to the rad multiplied by a constant called the "quality factor". For x and gamma radiation the rem is equal to the rad. The rad and the rem are currently being replaced in the scientific nomenclature by two units that are compatible with the International System of Units, namely the gray (Gy), equal to 100 rads and the Sievert (Sv), equal to 100 rem.
What are the symptoms for radiation syndromes?
Signs and symptoms are also affected by the type of exposure — such as total or partial body. The severity of radiation sickness also depends on how sensitive the affected tissue is. For instance, the gastrointestinal system and bone marrow are highly sensitive to radiation.
Initial signs and symptoms
The initial signs and symptoms of treatable radiation sickness are usually Nausea and vomiting. The amount of time between exposure and when these symptoms develop is a clue to how much radiation a person has absorbed.
After the first round of signs and symptoms, a person with radiation sickness may have a brief period with no apparent illness, followed by the onset of new, more-serious symptoms.
If you've had a mild exposure, it may take hours to weeks before any signs and symptoms begin. But with severe exposure, signs and symptoms can begin minutes to days after exposure.
Possible symptoms include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dizziness and disorientation
- Weakness and fatigue
- Hair loss
- Bloody vomit and stools from internal bleeding
- Low blood pressure
What are the causes for radiation syndromes?
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.
What are the treatments for radiation syndromes?
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.
If you have severe damage to bone marrow, you may also receive transfusions of red blood cells or blood platelets.
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 you take potassium iodide, 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.
If you have radiation sickness, you may receive additional medications or interventions to treat:
- 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.
Is there a cure/medications for radiation syndromes?
Radiation syndrome doesn’t have any cure, but a few medications and therapy can extract some radiation from the body. People who are exposed to radiation should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
The treatments for Radiation syndrome are as follows:
- DTPA (diethylenetriamine penaacetic acid): It binds to the radioactive elements present in the body, such as americium, plutonium, and curium. Furthermore, these combined particles move out of the body in the form of urine and result in minimum radioactive substance in the body.
- Potassium iodine: it is a nonreactive form of iodine that absorbs the reactive iodine and other reactive material. These absorbent materials pass out from the body in the form of urine. However, it is not a cure, but it can reduce the effects of radiation.
- Decontamination: It includes removing external radioactive particles. Removing shoes and clothes eliminates about 90% of the radiation, and washing the face and hands removes external contamination from the body.
- Prussian blue (Radiogardase): This is a type of dye that binds to particles of radioactive elements known as cesium and thallium, which are then excreted in feces. This treatment speeds up the elimination of the radioactive particles and reduces the number of radiation cells may absorb.
- Supportive treatment: If you have radiation sickness, you may receive additional medications or interventions to treat conditions like bacterial infections, headache, fever, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, dehydration, burns and sores or ulcers.
Nausea and vomiting,Diarrhea,Headache,Fever,Dizziness and disorientation,Weakness and fatigue,Hair loss,Bloody vomit and stools from internal bleeding
Acute radiation syndrome,Radiation poisoning
Diethylenetriamine pentaacetic acid (DTPA),Potassium iodine