OCT 24, 2017 5:42 AM PDT

Diagnosed: Rare Condition Causes Woman to Sweat Blood

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Image credit: CMAJ

Doctors have confirmed that a 21-year-old Italian woman does, indeed, sweat blood. Not much is known about this ultra rare condition, but it brings new meanings to the phrase “sweat, blood, and tears.”

The woman reported to have bleeding episodes on her face and palms, in the absence of any breaks in her skin. She said these 1 to 5 minute episodes occur without any identifiable patterns, but seemed to intensify with stress.

Doctors were understandably skeptical. After all, how can a person seemingly leak blood without being cut?

But under observation, the woman indeed did sweat blood. Doctors described it as a “discharge of blood-stained fluid from her face.” When tested in the lab, the discharge proved to be blood and not tinted sweat, which can be produced by other conditions. Furthermore, the microscope analysis of her skin was normal, truly absent of any lesions or abnormalities that could explain the bleeding.

As it turns out, this patient is one in less than 50 cases of hematohidrosis, a rare condition of sweating blood. Since 1880, only 42 cases of hematohidrosis have been reported. However, this doesn’t take into account historical evidence of hematohidrosis, which may have been labeled as “stigmata” tied to religious beliefs.

It’s not known what causes hematohidrosis. Some speculate that high blood pressure can push blood cells through the sweat glands to the skin surface. One case study suggests the condition is the result of ruptured capillary blood vessels that feed the sweat gland, “causing them to exude blood, occurring under conditions of extreme physical or emotional stress.”

Absent of an accepted explanation, the mysterious condition can be isolating and stigmatized. The woman was reported to have symptoms of depression and panic disorder, caused in large part by the social isolation related to hematohidrosis.

Additional sources: Live Science

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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