Well Being

What Happens To Your Body If You Get Dosed With Radiation?

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Dr. Strangelove
Firstly, let's define our dose. You walk around in radiation all day. Your body is radiating heat right now along with most everything around you. Those aren't the kinds of radiation that will dramatically affect our health.

How about if a nuclear bomb goes off in a terrorist attack on your town and you survive? Or what if you'd been at Nagasaki or Hiroshima and weren't one of the 80,000 that vaporized? What if you were poisoned by someone who wanted you to keep your secrets? This is the kind of radiation that can have the most dramatic effect on your health, so this is what we're interested in. This is called Ionizing Radiation. It has the power to go right through you, changing the basic structure of the building blocks of your body along the way.




  • The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission says that humans should be exposed to less than 100 mrem of man-made ionizing radiation per year.
  • To put this in perspective: the average human in the United States receives about 360 mrem per year.
  • About 80% of this is from natural sources occurring on Earth.

But in the scenarios we mentioned above, you could get dosed with ~100,000 mrem within a 24-hour period (possibly much shorter). This is very bad.

  • Instantly: You'll probably throw up. The gastrointestinal system is extremely sensitive to radiation at this level.
  • Within 30 Seconds: Disorientation sets in. This can last for minutes or hours. It is due to the radiation's effect on your central nervous system.
  • 1st Hour: Skin damage will start to appear. This can look like a sunburn and is characterized by swelling, itching and redness of your skin. You may also start developing Radiodermatitis (click for link to pic) at this point.
  • 3rd Hour: This is the initial survival window. If you're going to have a quick death from acute ionized radiation poisoning, it will be within the first few hours. If you survive, you have the following to look forward to:
  • Within 24 hours: Diarrhea, fainting and bleeding from your gums, nose and rectum are common reactions to large dose ionizing radiation exposure. Any and/or all of these symptoms should start to present themselves now.
  • 2nd week: Your hair starts to fall out. Your appetite fades, followed by emaciation, and inflammation of the nose, mouth and throat.
  • Fourth Week: Rapid emaciation. There is about a 50% mortality rate at this point.
  • >Years: Should you survive the first few weeks, you are likely to develop one or more of the following cancers and/or infertility sometime in the next 20 years: leukemia, breast, bladder, colon, liver, lung, esophagus, ovarian, multiple myeloma, and stomach.
  • >Years: Department of Health and Human Services literature also suggests a possible association between ionizing radiation exposure and prostate, nasal cavity/sinuses, pharyngeal and laryngeal, and pancreatic cancer.
  • >Years: All of these cancerous and genetic effects are a gray area. They are called “Stochastic Effects” and chance determines which ones you will or will not have. Although, at the level of dosage we are talking about it is more a question of which one(s), than if.

Click through for further reading/sources:

Radiations Effect on Human Can Range From Nausea to Death – CNN
Radiation Exposure – Medline Plus
Ionizing Radiation – Wikipedia
Radiation Sickness FAQs – CBC
Intro to Radiation Safety – NDT Resource Center
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

(1/26/07) Update: Reader Response here.
[tags] radiation, ionized, effects, poisoning, nuclear, attack [/tags]