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Tissue damage caused by exposure to ionizing radiation. Structures with rapid cell turnover (e.g., skin, stomach or intestinal lining, and bone marrow) are most susceptible. High-dose irradiation of the last two causes radiation sickness. Nausea and vomiting subside in a few hours. They are followed in intestinal cases by abdominal pain, fever, and diarrhea leading to dehydration and a fatal shocklike state, and in bone-marrow cases (two to three weeks later) by fever, weakness, hair loss, infection, and hemorrhage. In severe cases, death occurs from infection and uncontrollable bleeding. Lower radiation doses can cause cancer (notably leukemia and breast cancer), sometimes years later. Radiation exposure in early pregnancy can produce abnormalities in the embryo, whose cells are multiplying rapidly.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on radiation injury, visit Britannica.com.
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