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Are you at risk for watermelon stomach?

Everyone knows the myth: If you swallow a black watermelon seed, you will grow a watermelon in your stomach. Despite the name, watermelon stomach doesn’t stem from eating the fruit or its seeds at all.

Gastric antral vascular ectasia (GAVE) syndrome, or watermelon stomach, is a rare disease in which enlarged blood vessels cause internal bleeding in the stomach. The blood vessels typically form a red, flat, stripe pattern – similar to the dark green stripes on the outside of a watermelon.

The bleeding tends to be slow and found on blood tests, as opposed to visible bleeding.

“There isn’t a specific cause of the disease, but it’s seen more often in people who have cirrhosis (permanent scarring of the liver) or certain autoimmune diseases,” says Dr. Kabir Julka, a gastroenterologist at Advocate Health Care. “Fortunately, this condition is not very common as it can be challenging to treat.”

Symptoms of GAVE can include fatigue from chronic anemia. “Less likely possibilities could be overt blood in stool or even vomiting blood, but fortunately that is less frequent,” explains Dr. Julka.

If you experience any of those symptoms, contact your doctor and get a prompt evaluation. There are various treatment options for GAVE, including coagulation of the blood vessels through an endoscopy to stop internal bleeding, iron supplements and, in some cases, blood transfusions.

So, are black watermelon seeds safe to eat after all?

When eaten raw, your body will not digest the watermelon seed. Instead, it will pass through your body and end up in your stool. If you have a gastrointestinal disorder, you may experience abdominal pain, but in general, watermelon is safe to eat – seeds and all.

“If you frequently experience abdominal pain after eating, you should schedule an appointment with a gastroenterologist,” says Dr. Julka. “Your doctor can help you rule out health conditions, such as ulcers, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome.”

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