Effects of Radiation on Human Health

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Radiation happens when an atomic nucleus of an unstable atom loses energy by emitting ionizing particles. When these particles come in contact with organic materials damage, may or probably will happen. Radiation can cause burns, cancers and even death.

Measurement Unit

The SI measurement unit to measure a radiation dose is sievert (symbol: Sv). Another unit used in roentgen equivalent in man (or mammal) or rem (symbol: rem).

Rem can be converted in a straightforward way to the SI unit, sievert:

  • 1 rem = 0.01 Sv = 10 mSv = 10000 μSv
  • 1 millirem = 0.00001 Sv = 0.01 mSv = 10 μSv
  • 1 Sv = 100 rem
  • 1 mSv = 100 mrem = 0.1 rem
  • 1 μSv = 0.1 mrem

Examples of Radiation in Our Daily Life

In our daily life we, aware or not, are exposed to radiation. These radiations however do not impose great risk on our health. Here are some examples of radiation doses we could experience in our daily life and can be used as a radiation level comparison:

  • Eating one banana: 0.0001 mSv
  • Sleeping next to a human for 8 hours: 0.0005 mSv
  • Dental radiography: 0.005 mSv
  • Mammogram: 3 mSv
  • Brain CT scan: 0.8–5 mSv
  • Chest CT scan: 6–18 mSv
  • Gastrointestinal series X-ray investigation: 14 mSv

(Note: mSv is milliSievert, which is equivalent to 0.001 Sv)

Effect of High Radiation Exposure to Our Health

Exposure to high radiation doses however will give great risk to our health:

  • Radiation exposure measuring 1 Sv will damage the blood flow system and causing the number of lymphocyte cells in our blood to decrease. The early symptom is having a cold.
  • Exposure to radiation measuring 2 Sv and above will cause rapid hair loss, gastrointestinal damage which causes nausea, vomit and diarrhea. At this strength, radiation can cause reproductive system damage.
  • Nuclear radiation measuring 10 to 50 Sv will damage the blood vessels and can cause the heart fail to function and death.
  • Direct exposure to radiation measuring more than 50 Sv will cause brain cells damage, besides killing the nerve cells and damaging the blood vessels in heart.
  • In certain amount, radioactive iodine can damage part of or all of the thyroid gland which controls metabolism (production of energy) of a human being.

Above are some of the effects of sudden exposure to a radiation doses. If a person has prolonged exposure to radiation, the risk to his or her health is higher, depending on the level of radiation.

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