Dear Ask The Doctor: I am concerned about the nuclear situation in Japan. What are the short term effects of radiation exposure to the human body?
Dear Sam: This is a very timely question. The radiation of 0.2 to 0.3 gray are characterised as low level radiation and anything above that is characterised as high level radiation.Radiation potentially damages the nuclear stucture of the cells and lead to disturbance in cell proliferation and growth. It also affects at the DNA and the gene level.Currently the nuclear fallout in Japan is not considered as a world wide emergency .However in case of a true emergency it is necessary to know the effects on our health. There are both long term and short terms harmfull effects that can be caused in view of the nuclear radiation exposure.
Radiation exposure can lead to Acute radiation syndromes which can include the following
1) Cerebral syndrome: usually occure when high level doses of radiation are absorbed and leads to nausea, vommiting which is then folllowed by drowsiness and subsequently tremors, seizures, neurological signs and eventually death
2) Gastrointestinal syndrome: When the radiation exposure and absorption is lesser but still significant it leads to nausea, vommiting, diarrhea thus leading to dehydration , dizziness , vascular collapse and rapid death and degeneration of the gastrointestinal cells.
3)Hematopoetic syndrome: With symptoms of decreased appetite, generalised unwell feeling , vommiting. Usually lasts 6-12 hours and symptoms subside within 36 hours of exposure. However the hematopoetic cells ie the spleen, lymph nodes and bone marrow start degrading leading to decreased blood cell count including low WBC, RBC and neutrophil count which can then further lead to complications.
4) Increased infection susceptibility
The above mentioned are considered as the short term effects /immediate effects of being exposed to harmful radiation .