How Radiation Affects Human Bodies

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Accidents at nuclear plants are just one source of deadly doses of radiation.

The world is full of radioactivity, but most of it is at too low a level to particularly endanger human health. However, certain highly radioactive materials, such as radium or highly refined uranium, can pose a threat to human bodies. When humans are exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, it destroys cells at the atomic level, with dire health consequences.

  1. Radiation

    • The world is full of radiation of varying levels. Instability in atomic nuclei cause charged particles to shoot out. These include alpha, beta, and gamma radiation particles. The energy with which these particles are charged determines the type of radiation they constitute, and whether they pose any health risks. Gamma radiation particles are the most highly charged and hazardous to human health.

    Bond Interruption

    • Highly charged radioactive particles, such as gamma radiation, interrupt the bonding of the atoms in the human body. When the bonding of atoms that make up an individual cell are disrupted, that damages the behavior of the cell and the organs that the cell is part of. When large numbers of cells have numerous atomic bonds interrupted in this way, the damage cascades into a number of serious conditions.

    Radiation Sickness

    • The initial signs that an individual has been exposed to a dangerous amount of radiation will be nausea and vomiting. For mild cases, these will be the only symptoms. More severe exposure can lead to diarrhea, headache, and fever, some time after the initial exposure and symptoms. The greater the amount of radiation the person was exposed to, the soon these latter symptoms appear.

    Worst Cases

    • These initial symptoms can indicate a number of problems that large doses of radiation can cause. These include cancer, damage to organ function, and damage to bone marrow. Although doctors can treat patients who received small radiation exposures, people who experienced severe exposure can have irreparable damage to a variety of organ systems. According to the Mayo Clinic, such terminal damage can lead to death within two days to two weeks.

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