Gastric antral vascular ectasia, also called watermelon stomach, is a medical condition in which blood vessels in the stomach become dilated and present the possibility of significant internal bleeding. The blood vessels create red streaks in and on the stomach, similar to the streaks on a watermelon. People with the condition often experience fatigue, headaches, difficulty concentrating, and rapid or irregular heart rates. It can affect anyone, though it is most prominent in women who are 50 or older and have been diagnosed with cirrhosis, an abdominal injury, irritable bowel syndrome, or any of a number of different autoimmune diseases. Treatment usually involves focusing on the underlying causes, using endoscopic techniques to coagulate blood vessels, and performing blood transfusions to restore healthy blood levels.
Dilated blood vessels appear in the antral, or last part, of the stomach, as a result of distension caused by cirrhosis, trauma to the abdomen, vasculitis, graves' disease, heart failure, or disorders that affect gastrointestinal functioning. Individuals with irritable bowel syndrome, large bowel obstruction, and chronic constipation are at an especially high risk of developing this problem. When blood vessels dilate and erupt in the stomach, an individual is subject to extensive hemorrhaging and resulting anemia.
A person with watermelon stomach typically experiences a number of different symptoms. Individuals often report feelings of fatigue and weakness, chronic headaches, bloody stools, and shallow breathing. People who have suffered significant blood loss may experience confusion and difficulty concentrating, lightheadedness, heart palpitations, and chest pain. An individual who suffers from such symptoms should consult a medical professional immediately to obtain a proper diagnosis and explore his or her options for treatment.
A healthcare professional usually conducts an initial physical examination and asks about a patient's medical history when making a diagnosis. He or she may order a biopsy of stomach tissue or conduct an endoscopic investigation to look for telling red marks on the internal lining of the stomach. Once an individual has been diagnosed, gastrointestinal specialists usually take immediate steps to provide relief from symptoms and stop internal bleeding.
Medical professionals often try to treat the underlying causes of watermelon stomach with medication and surgery. If dilated blood vessels are causing internal bleeding, a specialist might conduct endoscopic cryotherapy to coagulate blood and seal the vessels. Endoscopic cryotherapy involves inserting an endoscope into the stomach and releasing liquid nitrogen to freeze blood vessels shut and effectively stop blood loss. An individual who has experienced severe hemorrhaging may need a blood transfusion to relieve anemia symptoms and begin the road to recovery. Most patients who receive immediate treatment for gastric antral vascular ectasia and its underlying causes begin to recover within about four weeks.