Doctors have treated a woman who appeared to sweat blood for years for no apparent reason in what authorities say is a case of an extremely rare condition.
The 21-year-old woman told physicians at an Italian hospital she had been spontaneously sweating blood from her face and the palms of her hands for three years, Drs. Roberto Maglie and Marzia Caproni wrote in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
“There was no obvious trigger for the bleeding, which could occur while she was asleep and during times of physical activity,” the doctors wrote.
The bleeding became more intense at times of stress and could last up to five minutes, the unidentified woman said.
As a result of her condition, known as hematohidrosis, the woman became socially isolated out of shame over her ailment, became depressed and developed a panic disorder, authorities said.
Doctors treated the woman for her depression and anxiety with paroxetine and clonazepam, but her face continued to discharge a “blood-stained fluid,” they said.
A microscopic analysis of the woman’s skin showed no reason for the bleeding.
The physicians came to the conclusion that she was suffering from hematohidrosis, a rare condition that few doctors have seen.
The woman was ultimately treated with propranolol, and while this led to a “marked reduction,” the woman is still not in complete remission, her doctors said.
Doctors are unsure if blood is actually passing through her sweat glands, as it has occurred in areas without sweat glands or through hair follicles. The underlying cause of the woman’s condition remains unclear.
Medical literature shows at least two dozen similar cases to the woman that have come to light since about 2000, according to Jacalyn Duffin, a hematologist and medical historian at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, who wrote a commentary that accompanied the case report.
Duffin came across 42 cases dating back to 1880, but nearly half appeared in the past five years.
“Five appeared in 2013, four in 2014, three in 2015, four in 2016 and two in 2017 (so far),” she wrote.
The cases came from nations on every continent, except North America. Of those treated, 24 were females ranging in age from seven months to 34 years and four were male — 9; 10; 15 and 72 years old, Duffin wrote.
The discovery led Duffin to ask whether there has been an increase in cases or if the condition is becoming more recognized by medical professionals.
“This collection of well-documented observations commands respect and acceptance. But why — with all this evidence — do we still harbor doubts about its existence?” Duffin wrote. “Other rare conditions are not viewed with similar skepticism. Ironically, for an increasingly secular world, the long-standing association of hematohidrosis with religious mystery may make its existence harder to accept.”
She noted the condition’s association with Christianity, as medical writers previously traced the condition of sweating blood to the story of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, may make it more difficult for doctors to accept.
Since the Italian case was published on Monday, three people have contacted Duffin to tell her they believe they have the same condition.
“That suggests to me that there may be more people who get it,” she told The Washington Post. “They either aren't taken seriously by their doctors or they hide it because it's stigmatized.”