A unique medical case study gives credence to the saying on “blood, sweat and tears.”
A 21-year old woman in Italy checked herself into a medical institution complaining of a rather terrifying symptom that she had been suffering from for three years: blood had been seeping persistently from her face and palms, with no visible cause. She had no broken skin, and the bleeding would happen without warning, sometimes becoming more intense when she was stressed. As a result, the woman became socially isolated, TIME reports.
The doctors she saw treated her for symptoms of major depressive disorder and panic disorder, and all of her physical tests came back normal. However, the bleeding continued, and her doctors reached a rare diagnosis: hematohidrosis, or “blood sweating.” The woman was treated with propranolol, a beta-blocker that is commonly used to regulate heart rate and blood pressure. While the bleeding did not stop completely, the treatment did see a “marked reduction” in her symptoms, the study said.
Hematohidrosis is an extremely rare condition wherein blood seeps out of unbroken skin, like how sweat does. According to the National Institutes of Health Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center, it occurs most commonly on the face, ears, eyes and nose, and is often linked to emotional stress and fear.
Some who have the condition may even cry bloody tears.
The Bible mentions Jesus sweating blood, and observed cases go all the way back to the third century B.C., says Jacalyn Duffin, who wrote an accompanying article for the study.
The condition is controversial, mostly because doctors don’t know a lot about it. The uncertainty surrounding hematohidrosis has led some doctors to dismiss it as a valid diagnosis. Even the study says that “there is no single explanation of the source of bleeding.” The current hypothesis that blood goes through the woman’s sweat glands because of “abnormal constrictions and expansions” of blood vessels has not been proven.
Duffin says this is a real condition that is misunderstood. “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.”
The study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.