Radiation damage may occur after a patient receives radiation therapy or is exposed to products or substances containing radiation, such as excessive X-ray imaging, nuclear power, or fallout from atomic weapons. Radiation damage may cause cancer, birth defects, and other serious health problems. Acute radiation sickness occurs within 24 hours of exposure. Chronic radiation syndrome involves a range of symptoms occurring over an extended time.
Signs and SymptomsRadiation damage is accompanied by the following signs and symptoms, which can occur immediately or appear months or years later.
- Radiation syndrome—malaise, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, fever, headache; with bleeding and complications affecting the digestive system, nervous system, heart, and lungs
- Central nervous system diseases
- Kidney, liver, or gastrointestinal problems
- Poor growth in children
- Skin conditions
- Pericarditis (inflammation of the sac around the heart)
- Lung infections or conditions, respiratory failure
- Vision impairment; cataracts
- Dysfunction of the reproductive organs
What Causes It?Damage occurs when radiation interacts with oxygen, causing certain molecules to form that are capable of damaging or breaking strands of DNA in the body's cells. This can result in cell death.
Who's Most At Risk?People who have been exposed to radiation and who also have the following conditions or characteristics are at risk for developing radiation damage.
- High dose of radiation exposure
- Young age at time of exposure
- Use of chemotherapy, antibiotics
- Exposure to radiation prior to birth (while in the womb)
What to Expect at Your Provider's OfficeIf you are experiencing symptoms associated with radiation damage, you should see your health care provider. A physical exam, lab tests, pathology tests, and imaging procedures such as barium radiography or colonoscopy may be performed.
PreventionIf you are receiving radiation treatment to treat cancer, your health care provider can take certain precautions to help prevent or reduce the risk of radiation damage. These may include administering low-dose radiation, using radio-protectant chemicals, and using special shields for other parts of your body.
Treatment PlanThe treatment plan depends on the type of radiation damage. Decontamination, if warranted, is essential. Transfusion of fluids, red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets may be necessary.
Drug TherapiesYour provider may prescribe a variety of medications, depending on the specific ailments resulting from radiation damage.
Surgical and Other ProceduresSurgery may be required to prevent further cell damage, or to graft healthy tissue onto a damaged area.
Complementary and Alternative TherapiesA comprehensive treatment plan for radiation damage may include a range of complementary and alternative therapies.
- Follow a whole-foods diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and anti-inflammatory fats (for example, cold-water fish, nuts, and seeds).
- Avoid pro-inflammatory and nutrient-poor foods such as caffeine, alcohol, sugar, saturated fats (for example, animal products), refined foods, and additives.
- Vitamin C (1,000 mg three to four times per day), vitamin E (400 IU two to three times per day), coenzyme Q10 (100 mg two to three times per day), and melatonin (2 to 10 mg per day)
- Glutathione (500 mg two times per day)
- Vitamin A (10,000 IU per day) or beta carotene (25,000 IU per day) and zinc (30 mg per day).
- L-glutamine (3 to 10 g three times per day) protects intestinal mucosa.
- Bromelain (250 to 500 mg between meals) decreases inflammation. Use with turmeric (Curcuma longa, 500 mg four times per day).
HerbsHerbal remedies may offer relief from symptoms. Herbs are generally available as dried extracts (pills, capsules, or tablets), teas, or tinctures (alcohol extraction, unless otherwise noted). Dose for teas is 1 heaping tsp/cup water steeped for 10 minutes (roots need 20 minutes).
- Rutin (100 mg to 200 mg one to three times per day)
- Milk thistle (Silybum marianum), 100 mg three times per day
- Gotu kola (Centella asiatica), 1,000 mg four times per day or standardized extract 60 mg twice a day
- Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis) tea to soothe inflamed tissues. Soak 1 heaping tbsp. of root in 1 quart of cold water overnight. Strain and drink throughout the day. May be taken long-term.
- Equal parts of coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), marigold (Calendula officinalis), licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), plantain (Plantago lanceolata), and wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa) provide immune support, enhance healing, and relieve pain. Take 30 to 60 drops four times per day for six to eight weeks.
- For long-term use, combine goldenseal, licorice root, marigold, red clover (Trifolium pratense), wild yam (Dioscorea villosa), and meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria). Take 30 to 60 drops two to four times per day.
Radium bromatum is specific for radiation poisoning, especially followed by arthritic complaints. Acute dose is three to five pellets of 12X to 30C every one to four hours until symptoms are relieved.
A body wash of coneflower, goldenseal, comfrey root (Symphytum officinalis), and sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) helps healing and reduces the risk of infection. Vitamin E oil applied to the skin twice daily, and Aloe vera extract applied as needed help healing.
Prognosis/Possible ComplicationsThe outcome varies depending on the level of radiation exposure, the promptness of treatment, and the thoroughness of ongoing monitoring. Long-term complications may include cancer, liver failure, deformity, sterility, and thickening and scarring of lung, liver, and kidney tissue.
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