The image shows a woman with blood seeping through her forehead, running in streams from her eyes. The patient, a 21-year-old in Italy, flummoxed doctors after arriving at a medical ward with a rare "case of blood sweating."
The woman's brief episodes of bleeding from the palms and face had occurred for three years despite no visible lesions, the woman's doctors detail in the an Oct. 23 edition of Canadian Medical Association Journal.
The bleeding spells occurred both at times of rest and activity, Drs. Roberto Maglie and Marzia Caproni explain, but seemed to worsen with emotional stress. Embarrassment over the bleeding caused the woman to become socially isolated and develop depression, they said. Blood tests ruled out the possibility of any hoax.
There's no one cause for blood sweating in medical literature, Maglie and Caproni note. And while the blood looks like sweat, no one's yet proven it passes through sweat glands. And bleedings from areas without sweat glands have been reported, too.
Examples of blood sweating, called hematohidrosis, exist throughout history, as Jacalyn Duffin, a medical historian at of Queen's University in Ontario, explains in the journal's companion piece. Aristotle described it, Duffin notes, but it's often associated with Jesus in the Bible, whose sweat falls like "great drops of blood."
One boy sweated blood through his shirt amid a fever, a Swiss doctor wrote in 1627. A year later, a young Belgian man reportedly sweated blood while facing execution, said Duffin. Several cases involved those condemned to death.
Duffin found modern cases, too, including 28 since 2004. Clinical reports of true blood sweating "persist at a steady and possibly rising rate," she concluded.
Of those 28 cases Duffin found, all but four were female with an average age of 14. All experienced similar symptoms in similar places — foreheads, faces, eyes and ears, she said. At least half had suffered severe stress.
"All authors emphasized the tremendous fear associated with hematohidrosis and the importance of reassurance," Duffin writes.
The doctors in Italy treated their patient with an antidepressant and a tranquilizer, but the bleeding continued. They then prescribed her propranolol, a medication for high blood pressure. It reduced her bleeding, they said, but it didn't stop it completely.
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