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Radiation – Acute Radiation Syndrome

Route Of Exposure

  • Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS) (sometimes known as radiation toxicity or radiation sickness) is an acute illness caused by irradiation of the entire body (or most of the body) by a high dose of penetrating radiation in a very short period of time (usually a matter of minutes).


  • Bone marrow syndrome (sometimes referred to as hematopoietic syndrome) the full syndrome will usually occur with a dose between 0.7 and 10 Gy (70 – 1000 rads) though mild symptoms may occur as low as 0.3 Gy or 30 rads.
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) syndrome: the full syndrome will usually occur with a dose greater than approximately 10 Gy (1000 rads) although some symptoms may occur as low as 6 Gy or 600 rads.
  • Cardiovascular (CV)/ Central Nervous System (CNS) syndrome: the full syndrome will usually occur with a dose greater than approximately 50 Gy (5000 rads) although some symptoms may occur as low as 20 Gy or 2000 rads


Stages Of Acute Radiation Syndrome
  • Prodromal stage (N-V-D stage): The classic symptoms for this stage are nausea, vomiting, as well as anorexia and possibly diarrhea (depending on dose), which occur from minutes to days following exposure. The symptoms may last (episodically) for minutes up to several days.
  • Latent stage: In this stage, the patient looks and feels generally healthy for a few hours or even up to a few weeks.
  • Manifest illness stage: In this stage symptoms depend on the specific syndrome and last from hours up to several months.
  • Recovery or death: Most patients who do not recover will die within several months of exposure. The recovery process lasts from several weeks up to two years.


  • The diagnosis of ARS can be difficult to make because ARS causes no unique disease. Also, depending on the dose, the prodromal stage may not occur for hours or days after exposure, or the patient may already be in the latent stage by the time they receive treatment.
  • If a patient is known to have been or suspected of having been exposed to a large radiation dose, draw blood for CBC analysis with special attention to the lymphocyte count, every 2 to 3 hours during the first 8 hours after exposure (and every 4 to 6 hours for the next 2 days)
  • If no radiation exposure is initially suspected, consider ARS in the differential diagnosis if a history exists of nausea and vomiting that is unexplained by other causes. Other indications are bleeding, epilation, or white blood count (WBC) and platelet counts abnormally low a few days or weeks after unexplained nausea and vomiting.


  • Secure ABCs (airway, breathing, circulation) and physiologic monitoring (blood pressure, blood gases, electrolyte and urine output) as appropriate.
  • Treat major trauma, burns and respiratory injury if evident.
  • In addition to the blood samples required to address the trauma, obtain blood samples for CBC (complete blood count), with attention to lymphocyte count, and HLA (human leukocyte antigen) typing prior to any initial transfusion and at periodic intervals following transfusion.
  • Treat contamination as needed.
  • If exposure occurred within 8 to 12 hours, repeat CBC, with attention to lymphocyte coun

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