The Curious Case of the Woman That Sweat Blood

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A Canadian Medical Journal recently reported on a woman that sweats blood from her pores. It’s not a figure of speech. When she sweats, blood literally collects on her skin.

Anyone who was a fan of the HBO Series, True Blood, will remember that vampires cry tears of blood in the show. This is not that, partly because that show was a fictional account, but also because this patient is a real person.

Treated in Florence, Italy, the woman suffered from a disorder called hematohidrosis syndrome, one of the rarest on Earth.

It’s so rare, that when the doctors in Florence reached out to other practitioners, the other doctors assumed it was a ruse.

This month Medshop Australia returns to the bizarre over this story of the woman who sweats blood.


Hematohidrosis Syndrome

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Blood sweat is the common name for the condition. it comes from the Greek words for blood and sweat.

In most cases, blood-sweating occurs in the forehead, nails, umbilicus, and other skin surfaces where one would normally sweat.

The afflicted may experience vampire-like tears, tainted with red from blood mixing in the tears. They may also suffer nosebleeds.

The range of bloodiness spans from very light tinting, like a pink colouration to dark red blood. 

If the random bleeding from parts of one’s body wasn’t enough, patients can also suffer headaches or abdominal tension.


The Patient


At age 21, one expects like to be mostly easy from a health standpoint. The biggest diseases one worries about is one transmitted through social activities, not bizarre one-off conditions that have no explanation at first.

The woman in Italy, who remains anonymous for obvious reasons, found that her face and palms would sweat blood while performing physical activity, but sometimes while sleeping too.

Suddenly venereal diseases don’t seem so bad when one’s waking up to blood-soaked sheets.

Making matters worse, when the young woman finally worked up the courage to see the physicians, they had no immediate answers. The cases are too few for an average doctor to quickly assess the source.

For three years, she'd suffered a history of bleeding for as long as five minutes at a time. It would take more than a few minutes for the pros to figure it out.

The problem for the poor woman has been bad enough that she’s had a hard time socializing. This has led to a state of depression resulting from isolation. Without a diagnosis and treatment, the potential for her situation worsening was high.


Doctor’s Response

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When she first reported her symptoms, doctors had to rule out what they call a “factitious order.” After a thorough battery of tests and consultations with other doctors, they finally diagnosed her with hematohidrosis.

To treat her, they prescribed propranolol, a medication normally prescribed for treating blood pressure, angina, and other heartbeat disorders.

"I can say with clarity that I've never seen a case like this—ever," said Dr. Michelle Sholzberg, co-director of the Hemophilia Comprehensive Care program at St. Michael's Hospital, according to CBC News. "And I can say that I've seen some of the worst bleeding disorders, and I've never seen them sweat blood."

Due to the severity of the bleeding, even Sholzberg is unsure of the diagnosis, that it may be something to do with her sweat ducts themselves.

"I think this person has a very bizarre anatomical defect on a microscopic level that is resulting in this very unusual symptom," she said.

For now, propranolol is the best they can do, but the patient may have some yet undiagnosed disorder to be solved later in life.

There have at least 18 reported cases of hematohidrosis since 2000, about one per year if one looks at that way, but most have been in the last decade.

The problem seems to be exacerbating, albeit an infinitesimal percentage of the population.


What’s The Cause?

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Tiny capillaries which feed the sweat glands can rupture. When they do that, blood escapes the capillaries into the gland.

As the person sweats, the sweat mixes with the blood. Sometimes headaches and abdominal pain may accompany the blood-sweat, but not in every case and the causes for those symptoms remain unknown.

Much of this disorder remains unknown. There simply aren’t enough cases to warrant the time and money required to learn more. The question doctors may never answer is why does this happen?

The best guess we have is stress. Extreme mental distress, the sort experienced during trauma, like a fight or flight scenario, may cause the sympathetic nervous system to react in such a way that the capillaries hemorrhage.

Stress would account for the headaches and abdominal pain too. Mental anxieties, like acute fear, can kick in the body’s fight or flight reaction, triggering the symptoms.

Diagnosis is typically a matter of elimination. They perform various analyses of the blood via platelet counts, platelet aggregation tests, coagulation profiles, and skin biopsies in search of blood cell abnormalities.

Once doctors rule out all other potential causes, the only thing left is hematidrosis.

Cases of the disorder date back to the Greeks. Medieval diagnoses associated the symptoms with demonic possession.

In one 16th case, the good people of Belgium felt their only option was to sentence one patient to death for sweating blood.

Thankfully for the young woman in this story, modern humans don’t need to purge the earth of vampires.


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