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Not a Halloween nightmare: This woman has a condition that makes her sweat blood

Italian woman’s battle with hematidrosis silences skeptical doctors.
hematidrosis
Photo: Twitter / LiveScience

Sweating blood. It might seem like part of a really freaky Halloween costume, but for one woman it’s a real life nightmare.

According to a report published on October 23 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, a 21-year-old Italian woman went to the doctor complaining that over the past three years she experienced inexplicable periodic bouts of bleeding from her face and the palms of her hands. The bouts lasted anywhere from three to five minutes, she told doctors, and most often occurred when she was under emotional stress.

Doctors ultimately diagnosed her with having hematidrosis after observing “the discharge of blood-stained fluid from her face,” that was blood and not simply colored sweat that is an indicator of other diseases, according to the report.

What is hematidrosis?

Also known as hematohidrosis, it’s a condition that’s been around in folklore back to the time of Aristotle, though doctors have been skeptical that it actually exists, Dr. Jacalyn Duffin, a medical historian and hematologist at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, wrote in a commentary with the report.

 

 

Hematidrosis happens when blood seeps through intact membranes and skin, according to the National Institutes of Health, but the reason why it happens isn’t really understood. Some doctors believe high blood pressure can cause blood cells to push out through the sweat glands, while others hypothesize that it has something to do with stressful or scary situations that causes increases in certain hormones. Another study says it may be linked to a “component of systemic disease, vicarious menstruation, excessive exertion,” as well.

And it’s becoming more and more common. Many of the cases seem to happen to young women, like in this report and in a previous study of a 13-year-old girl, and there have been 18 reported cases of hematidrosis since 2013, according to Duffin.

Is there a treatment for hematidrosis?

Beta blockers like propranolol are often used to successfully relieve the problem, according to one study. Doctors gave the Italian woman medication for high blood pressure and it’s helped the symptoms somewhat, but she still experiences the condition — and it’s affected her life, leaving her feeling socially isolated and depressed.

Her case — and the cases of others — demonstrate that hematidrosis "credible, though scant, observations of sweating blood persist" in the medical literature, Duffin wrote in her report. "This collection of well-documented observations commands respect and acceptance.”

 
 
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