Immediately following radiation exposure, atomic-bomb survivors experienced stress brought on by a broad range of physical, social, and psychological factors. Initial burns and injuries were followed by the onset of acute radiation symptoms, such as epilation (hair loss), bleeding, and diarrhea, even in those who previously appeared unhurt. Deaths of family members and the general upheaval of their lives as well as reports of an increased incidence of cancer as a late effect of radiation exposure heightened survivors’ anxiety and fears.
In cases of atomic-bomb exposure, it is unclear to what extent symptoms reported by survivors were psychological or radiation-induced. Though psychological effects from radiation exposure must have been considerable, few studies have been conducted in this area. However, in the 1950s, psychiatrists in Hiroshima and Nagasaki reported increased complaints among A-bomb survivors of neurotic symptoms, including general fatigue, amnesia, and lack of concentration as well as other symptoms commonly associated with autonomic nerve imbalance, such as palpitation or a sense of burning or chill.
Survivor responses to RERF questionnaires revealed many of the symptoms now described in post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which occurs following experiences of great terror, such as floods, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. Symptoms reported by A-bomb survivors included recalling the occurrence and becoming upset, experiencing an increased sense of unresponsiveness and immobility, and feeling guilt and discouragement in addition to demonstrating such physical symptoms as dizziness, unconsciousness, headache, and nausea.
Further study of the psychological effects from radiation exposure from the atomic bombings is planned.