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Radiation sickness

Symptoms that occur after exposure to an overdose of radioactivity or X-rays. The severity of the condition is determined by the intensity and duration of radiation. The total radiation dose is calculated from the number of separate occasions on which the patient has been exposed to radiation. Thus frequent short exposure is as dangerous as one large dose. Children are more sensitive to radiation than adults, because it has a particular effect on growing and dividing cells. Everybody comes into contact with some radiation – even if only from the sun – but this rarely leads to an overdose. This can occur in nuclear disasters, or through professional contact with radioactivity or X-rays -in a hospital, for example. Radiation sickness can manifest itself in a variety of ways; it affects the reproductive organs, skin, the alimentary canal and the blood. DNA can be altered in the radiation usually causes leukaemia or aplastic anaemia. Other possible effects are infertility, immune deficiencies, skin eruptions, nausea and diarrhoea. Damaging effects can persist for years and may prove ultimately fatal. Raynaud’s disease (dead fingers) Condition of the blood vessels in the fingers in which they occasionally become constricted, so that circulation to the fingertips is temporarily restricted. The condition affects mainly young women. The blood vessels are hypersensitive to stimuli that cause constriction (including cold and emotion). An attack begins with one or more fingers of both hands turning pale and ‘dead’. After a few minutes or hours the narrowed vessels dilate spontaneously, circulation is restored and the fingers become red and painful. Treatment consists of protecting the hands from cold (by wearing gloves, for example) and giving up smoking. Medication and surgery usually have no effect.

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