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 Symptoms
Radiation 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
Central nervous system diseases
Kidney, liver, or gastrointestinal problems
Poor growth in children
Pericarditis (inflammation of the sac around the heart)
Lung infections or conditions, respiratory failure
Vision impairment; cataracts
Dysfunction of the reproductive
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
High dose of radiation exposure
Young age at time of exposure
Use of chemotherapy, antibiotics
Exposure to radiation prior to birth (while in the
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
If 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
If 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
The 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.
Your provider may prescribe a variety of medications, depending on the
specific ailments resulting from radiation damage.
Surgical and Other Procedures
Surgery may be required to prevent further cell damage, or to graft healthy
tissue onto a damaged area.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
A 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,
Avoid pro-inflammatory and nutrient-poor foods such as caffeine,
alcohol, sugar, saturated fats (for example, animal products), refined foods,
Potentially beneficial nutrient supplements include the
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
Bromelain (250 to 500 mg between meals) decreases inflammation. Use
with turmeric (Curcuma longa, 500 mg four times per
Herbal 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
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica), 1,000 mg four times per day or
standardized extract 60 mg twice a day
The following may be helpful for acute effects.
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
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
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
The 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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Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998:100,123,167,170,222.
Brenner BM, Rector FC. The Kidney. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders;
Pizzo PA, Poplack DG. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Oncology.
3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott-Raven Publishers; 1997.
Wilson JD. Williams Textbook of Endrocrinology. 9th ed.
Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders; 1998.
Review Date: March 2000
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Peter Hinderberger, MD, PhD,
Ruscombe Mansion Community Health Center, Baltimore, MD; Anne McClenon, ND,
Compass Family Health Center, Plymouth,
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