This Woman 'Sweats' Blood

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on October 25, 2017
2 min read

You’ve probably sweat bullets before, though not literally. But did you know that in a few cases people have really “sweat” blood?

Two doctors have shared their story of treating a young woman with the puzzling ailment. Their new case study appears in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The doctors say the 21-year-old woman arrived at their Italian hospital bleeding from their face for no clear reason. They told them they’d been having occasional bouts of sudden bleeding -- sometimes from the palms, too -- for about 3 years.

They said they’d start dripping blood without warning. It would seep from their skin for up to 5 minutes. Sometimes it happened while they were out and about; other times, while they slept. The bleeding was worst when they were stressed.

And the embarrassment they felt? Bad enough to make them give up their social life.

They concluded the woman had a rare condition that made them sweat blood -- “hematohidrosis” -- and they treated them with a drug called propranolol.

“We don’t know the exact cause of hematohidrosis," says Michael Smith, MD, chief medical director of WebMD. “But one theory is that an overactive nervous system may be to blame -- specifically the sympathetic nervous system, which controls many bodily functions, including sweating.

“This doesn’t explain the bleeding, but it does explain why propranolol, which is known to decrease the activity of this part of the nervous system, would help.”

The doctors who wrote the case study say the drug helped their young patient bleed less, but didn’t stop it completely.

Though the article’s authors didn’t mention it, the condition seems similar to the religious belief in stigmata. Some Christians think there is spiritual significance to that bleeding from the head, the hands, and other places on the body, which corresponds to the wounds that Jesus Christ suffered at the end of his life.