It may sound like the plot of a religious horror movie, but Italian doctors report a 21-year-old woman who presented a particularly gruesome case. For three years, she had bled from her palms and face, with no signs of cuts or other wounds. The condition had caused the young woman significant distress, and as a result, she had isolated herself for a long time and developed depression.
Roberto Maglie and Marzia Caproni, dermatologists at the University of Florence, reported the case, which appeared on Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. As is customary in strange medical case studies, the patient’s identity is being kept confidential for the sake of her privacy.
The first thing doctors did when they began examining the patient was test her blood for cell counts and clotting factors, both of which came back normal. They diagnosed her with hematohidrosis syndrome — this literally means “blood sweat.”
“I can say with clarity that I’ve never seen a case like this — ever,” Dr. Michelle Sholzberg, co-director of the Hemophilia Comprehensive Care program at St. Michael’s Hospital, told CBC. “And I can say that I’ve seen some of the worst bleeding disorders, and I’ve never seen them sweat blood.” She suspects that the patient has an issue with her sweat ducts. “I think this person has a very bizarre anatomical defect on a microscopic level that is resulting in this very unusual symptom.”
The condition is rare, but reports of it have been around for hundreds of years.
“Leonardo Da Vinci described a soldier who sweated blood before battle,” reported doctors in a case study in the Indian Journal of Dermatology in 2009. For a long time, though, it’s been hard to distinguish the myth from fact when it comes to hematohidrosis cases, as the phenomenon is tinged with religious symbolism.
In a commentary published with the report, Jacalyn Duffin, a hematologist at Queen’s University in Ontario, confirmed that many reports of the phenomenon have been questionable, but after reviewing more recent literature — as well as reports that predate Jesus Christ — she believes the report.
“The very fact that there are sporadic references to the phenomenon through time, scattered in many different places, tends to suggest to me that it must occur,” says Duffin.
The patient has been treated with blood pressure medications, and while her symptoms have lessened, they have not gone away entirely.