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Hematidrosis represents a strange and extremely rare medical condition where the affected individual literally sweats bloody fluid through the sweat pores. The skin is usually anatomically and histologically normal, though a few studies have reported some abnormalities such as blood-filled spaces in the skin at the time of the bloody sweat. This has not been confirmed in most other research, however.
The secretion is similar to blood in its cellular composition, and tests positive for blood on various diagnostic tests. It has yet to be completely established that it emerges from the sweat pores, and a few cases have been reported in which the secretion occurred in areas that normally lack sweat glands. These patients have no evidence of trauma anywhere, and all coagulation tests are normal.
The first mention of bloody sweat may be dated back to the age of Aristotle, around the third century BC. Later it is clearly described in the account of the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, in the gospel of Luke, where Christ is said to have sweated great drops of blood as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. Similar descriptions, if not validated so soundly, are extant in stories from the Middle Ages. Yet doctors continue to doubt its existence because of its association with a religious account.
However, this attitude is becoming harder to sustain with the recent documented occurrence of a dramatic case of gross hematidrosis in a young Italian female in whom frequent episodes recurred over three years before presentation. The condition has caused her to withdraw socially, and develop depressive symptoms linked with severe anxiety.
The doctors who treated her were perplexed by the strange phenomenon but finally decided to try the beta-adrenergic blocker drug called propranolol to calm down her sympathetic overactivity and stress-related physical manifestations. Though the bleeding did not stop completely, there was a considerable reduction in its frequency from the 30 or more episodes observed during her hospital stay.
A recent article on the condition in 2009 by Jacalyn Duffin from Queen’s University (Ontario) covers almost all the articles on the subject from 1880 onwards. It is interesting that 28 of these were descriptions of cases seen by doctors after 2004, and therefore readily verifiable. The overwhelming majority were very young females, and the usual areas affected were the forehead, cheeks, lacrimal glands (tear glands) and ears. In about half of them the situation was fraught with intense anxiety. Yet she noted that medical skepticism continued to abound, seemingly without warrant (except possibly for philosophical reasons).
Some of these cases have involved people obviously under immense stress, as for instance, six people facing execution, a boy with fever, a woman in fear of rape, and an old man suffering from a prolonged family feud.
The failure to evolve a comprehensive explanation for this disorder may have contributed to its slow acceptance among medical professionals. The fact remains that recorded cases are being described every now and then, in several different regions and by totally unrelated authors.
Also, the condition remains one of gruesome fascination, but of great psychological suffering for the victim. Treatments afforded for hematidrosis range from psychotherapy in the form of counseling and constant reassurance, to beta-blockers, and even alternative therapies in one case. Remission was spontaneous in some patients, but occurred either partially or fully following medical treatment in others.