In a medical case like few others, a 21-year-old woman has been found to sweat blood from her face and the palms of her hands. She has no apparent injuries, nor is she suffering from any major detrimental physiological effects.
As noted by the two physicians from the University of Florence in their case study, the “patient had become socially isolated owing to embarrassment over the bleeding.”
Writing in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, they explain that a close analysis revealed that she was suffering from hematohidrosis, and remarkably, she isn’t the first to be diagnosed with it. Leonardo da Vinci, for one, described a soldier who sweated blood before heading off to battle.
A handful of cases have been reported over the last few years, with the symptoms being somewhat similar: blood-infused sweat effusing from the face, nailbeds, and navel. Excessive nosebleeds and crying blood are also commonplace, although exclusively crying blood is a different condition known as haemolacria – one which is often caused by injury or infection.
The weirdest part is that it doesn’t appear to be caused by an infection. The patients’ red blood cells are normal, as is their platelet count. Their white blood cell count also appears to be within normal ranges.
What’s probably happening is that the extremely fine capillary blood vessels surrounding the sweat glands break, triggering blood to escape through said glands. Nevertheless, as the study’s authors point out, “there is no single explanation of the source of bleeding in hematohidrosis,” and any hypotheses have “not yet been proven”.
It’s thought that severe anxiety is the primary driver of such a condition, which is why patients are often prescribed medication to reduce their stress levels.
This new patient, who “reported symptoms consistent with major depressive disorder and panic disorder”, was also prescribed anti-anxiety medications. Despite this, she continued to sweat blood.
Making sure that she definitely wasn’t faking the condition – something called factitious disorder – she was given a medication designed to control blood pressure. Although the blood sweats were reduced, she still experienced them from time to time.
As reported by The Guardian, this kind of blood emergence has often appeared in religious texts. Whether or not these stories were true (or embellished) or not isn’t the point; the fact that they appear at all makes the acceptance of hematohidrosis as a genuine medical condition rather difficult for some.
Whatever the cause, it’s worth noting that no patient has yet died from hematohidrosis, although it clearly makes living a normal life all-but-impossible.