Depressed Patient Sweats Blood from Her Palms and Face in Rarely Seen Condition

10_23_Blood sweating
A case study details the peculiar blood sweating illness of a 21-year-old female patient. Reprinted with permission from CMAJ

Sweating is a regular human function that allows a person to maintain a normal body temperature. You're either someone who takes it for granted or curses the pit stains that ruin all of your white shirts. Unless you're someone who perspires blood. Then you have bigger problems.

A new case study published in the Canadian Medical Journal details a most peculiar case of a 21-year-old Italian woman with a three-year history of spontaneously sweating blood from her hands and face.

In the case study, published Monday, the Italian doctors describe a patient who had one- to five-minute bleeding episodes. Extensive examination didn't reveal the patient had any lesions or cuts, and tests on her blood and her skin didn't detect any abnormalities that might cause the bleeding to happen. The patient reported symptoms of depression, anxiety and self-isolation, claiming she did not want to be in public because she feared having a blood-sweating episode.

The researchers diagnosed the patient with hematohidrosis, an incredibly rare condition. The doctors treated the patient with antidepressant medications as well as beta blockers. The drugs reduced some of the episodes of blood sweating, but didn't stop them completely.

An accompanying commentary analysis examined the history of hematohidrosis, and found a majority of journal-documented cases appeared in women, leading some early publications to speculate menstruation could be linked to the condition.Doctors have also hypothesized that hematohidrosis is caused by hysteria and other psychiatric problems in women. "The report from Italy in CMAJ is typical: a young woman with debilitating psychic distress," write the authors.

Blood sweating is associated mostly with religion. In the Bible, Jesus Christ bled sweat while praying before his crucifixion. But the authors say there's mention of hematohidrosis in religious literature as early as the third century B.C. The connection that hematohidrosis has to biblical stories and science fiction may be why the medical community is hesitant to believe hematohidrosis is a real condition.

Scientists and clinicians have been pondering the condition for some time. The authors of the analysis found some 42 journal published on the subject between 1880 to 1935 and 1952 to 2016, most of which were in dermatology journals. There's no medical record of anyone dying from the strange condition.

The authors of the analysis wonder if the cases of hematohidrosis "persist at a steady and possibly rising rate," why then the scientific community still doubts it's a real condition.

"Other rare conditions are not viewed with similar skepticism," the authors write. "Ironically, for an increasingly secular world, the long-standing association of hematohidrosis with religious mystery may make its existence harder to accept. It seems that humans do sweat blood, albeit far less often literally than metaphorically."