HEALTH MATTERS: Your health questions answeredQ. I’m worried about the nuclear reactor situation in Japan. What are the manifestations of radiation poisoning?
By: Dr. Joshua Wynne , Grand Forks Herald
Q. I’m worried about the nuclear reactor situation in Japan. What are the manifestations of radiation poisoning?
A. First of all, be reassured that the risk of any significant harmful effects to people in Grand Forks from the nuclear power plant situation in Japan is negligible. While the earthquake and resulting tsunami have caused enormous hardship, damage, and loss to the Japanese people, the risk of significant radiation injury in the United States is essentially zero, even if the worst case scenario were to occur there.
The large distance between Japan and North Dakota is our major protector, and while detectable evidence of radiation from the Chernobyl accident were found around the world, there were no significant or harmful levels detected anywhere in the United States. Please keep the Japanese people in your thoughts and prayers, but don’t fret about possible radiation dangers here in North Dakota as a consequence of the Japanese nuclear reactor problem.
Accordingly, no other preventive measures are recommended. There have been news reports of people on the west coast of the United States purchasing potassium iodide pills. Potassium iodide can block the uptake of radioactive material by the human body, but we don’t recommend this medication, especially since it can result in complications. Besides, it is not needed or helpful.
As to the effects of radiation injury, they come in two forms—acute and chronic. The acute effects include skin burns, damage to the intestinal tract, anemia and damage to the cells in the blood, and nervous system manifestations. Long-term effects include an increased risk of cancer and malignancies of various types.
Q. I have low blood pressure. What causes it, and is it dangerous?
A. When the heart beats, it ejects a quantity of blood into the arteries. This causes the blood pressure to rise, and then fall as the blood is distributed to the tissues of the body. If the blood pressure is too low, not enough blood is forced into the tissues, and the organs of the body may be damaged. If the body is damaged enough, the person dies. A sudden fall in blood pressure usually is due to one of several causes — a massive heart attack, blood loss often due to internal bleeding, and shock, often as a consequence of overwhelming infection.
These conditions are extremely serious, and often result in death, even with expeditious and optimal treatment. On the other hand, chronically low blood pressure is usually much less serious. In fact, life expectancy is generally longer the lower the usual blood pressure.
While there are some conditions that can cause an abnormally low blood pressure, most of the time we find that chronically low blood pressure is due simply to a low setting of that person’s blood pressure “thermostat.”
Consequently, no treatment is needed. On occasion, an underactive thyroid gland, diabetes, chronic anemia, or other medical conditions can result in low blood pressure, but usually it is well-tolerated. All patients with chronic low blood pressure, however, need to be careful when sitting up or standing, as these changes in posture can transiently further lower the blood pressure and cause lightheadedness.
Peope who have low blood pressure are cautioned to sit on the side of the bed before standing. As always, I’d recommend that anyone with low blood pressure be fully evaluated by their health care provider.
Wynne is vice president for health affairs at UND, dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and a professor of medicine. He is a cardiologist by training.
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The content of this column is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for professional medical advice or care. The information provided herein should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your health care provider. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this column.