Leeches therapy is a natural method of treating various health ailments using leeches, which have been known to humanity for over 2,000 years. The procedure involves applying specially cultivated medical leeches to stimulate our body’s self-healing process. Leech therapy has been classified in the International Classification of Medical Procedures (99.991 – Leech therapy), where patient safety and health principles have been defined.
The method’s name derives from the Latin word hirudo, meaning leech. Although several hundred species of leeches exist, only about a dozen are used for medicinal purposes and cultivated in sterile conditions.
Treatment with leeches – what does it help?
The secret of leech therapy lies in the medicinal properties of the secretion from the leech’s salivary glands. This secretion contains over 100 biochemical compounds that positively affect the human body. One of the most important is hirudin, the best existing anticoagulant drug. Experiments are ongoing to produce the medicinal compounds produced by sponges artificially, but this has yet to be achieved.
When a leech is applied to the patient’s skin, compounds in the leeches saliva begin to penetrate the body, causing biochemical changes. These substances are attributed to anticoagulant properties and dilating and sealing blood vessels. They also have antihistamine, analgesic, and antibiotic effects.
Where to apply leeches?
Each leech is used only once. It cannot be used again, even on the same patient. Several leeches (from 3 to 8) are applied to the patient during the procedure. Their number depends on gender, age, type of ailment, its advancement, duration of the disease, body build, and the patient’s general attitude towards leech therapy. The procedure ends when the leech detaches itself from the application site, lasting several minutes to 1.5 hours. The application site of the leech depends on the source of pain and painful ailments the patient complains about.
How to treat wounds after leeches?
After the leech therapy procedure, blood will seep from the wounds created by the detachment of leeches, which is entirely normal. However, remember not to remove the applied dressing, which could extend the bleeding to several hours.
The dried wound should not be touched; it is best to protect it with a plaster. After leech treatment, using the sauna, swimming pool, fitness club, or gym is not allowed. If the area around the wound starts itching or reddening, the indicated spot should be smeared with an antihistamine preparation. Wounds after the procedure should not be soaked. Bathing should avoid wounds after leeches.
What do leeches treat?
Leech therapy is not a remedy for all diseases, but there are many ailments for which leech treatment can help. Evidence suggests that the medicinal leech can alleviate symptoms caused by diseases such as:
- cardiovascular system diseases;
- stomach and duodenal ulcers;
- hypertension and hypotension;
- coronary artery disease;
- heart pains;
- thrombophlebitis (varicose veins);
- high cholesterol;
- skin diseases;
- hard-to-heal wounds;
- hematomas and thromboses;
- lung and bronchial diseases;
- female diseases;
- joint pains;
- back pains;
- and many others.
Over 20 years ago, in 1996, scientific research confirmed the beneficial action of hirudin compounds in stimulating the growth of nerve cells. Therefore, there are high hopes for the possibility of treating postnatal cerebral palsy in children as well as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease with leeches.
What does a leech look like?
A leech has an elongated, clearly segmented body, ranging in length from a few to over 30 millimetres, narrowing towards the ends, finished with one or two suckers. In the head segment, on its upper side, are eyes (1-10 pairs) of various sizes, shapes, and arrangements (depending on the species). Some leech species do not have eyes. The leech’s mouth opening is located in the front sucker.
Leeches use uckers to attach to the substrate and, for blood-sucking species, burrow under their host’s skin. Leeches usually have shades of brown and green, with a mixture of black.
Leeches therapy – when to be cautious?
Therapy involving leeches can help cure a range of ailments, but it can also harm in many cases.
It’s important to remember that leeches should not be applied to pregnant women. Their saliva contains hirudin compounds, which can hurt the course of developing pregnancy and, in some cases, lead to miscarriage.
Leeches should in no case be applied to people who have haemophilia, weakened individuals, those with low blood pressure, as well as those under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Patients undergoing anticoagulant treatment should refrain from leech therapy for some time. Only after discontinuing pharmacological drugs is the procedure safe for the patient, with the break from the moment of finishing the medication to the moment of the procedure lasting at least a week. Failure to adhere to these recommendations may extend the bleeding time from the wound where the leech was attached to even 48 hours.
After each leech application, the patient may experience general weakness, pains, and dizziness, so leech therapy is not recommended for persons with a blood pressure of 60/80 or less.
Before leech therapy, ensure the patient is not allergic to compounds produced by leeches’ salivary glands. Such a person may experience severe allergic symptoms. Applying a maximum of 4 leeches during the first session for an allergic patient is recommended.
Leech treatment is not recommended for:
- children below ten years of age (except for patients after replantation);
- women during menstruation;
- individuals with high fever;
- mentally ill persons.
Questions and answers
Do leeches help?
Medical leeches have been used for centuries as a healing agent and are still considered one of the most effective drugs for improving the circulatory system. Leeches improve blood circulation, and better blood circulation helps reduce inflammation, pain, and swelling. Leeches also effectively remove toxins from the body and can help improve the skin’s overall health.
Are leeches dangerous?
Leeches themselves are not dangerous, but they can carry various harmful bacteria. For this reason, it’s essential to use sterile leeches during any medical procedures.
What does applying leeches help with?
Applying leeches can be helpful in many issues, including reducing swelling, increasing blood flow to a specific area, and treating conditions such as arthritis.
How long do wounds from leeches heal?
There must be a definitive answer, as it depends on many factors, including the wound’s severity and the individual’s natural healing ability. Generally, however, wounds inflicted by leeches heal relatively quickly, often within a few days or weeks.
Are leeches good for haemorrhoids?
Yes, it has been shown that leeches help reduce pain, swelling, and the sensation of heat associated with haemorrhoids and varicose veins. Their action is based on sucking blood that has accumulated in these areas and contributes to inflammation. This can speed up the healing process and provide relief from some symptoms.
Can leeches help with back pain?
Leech saliva’s antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory action can theoretically support blood flow to the sciatic nerve and reduce swelling. However, it’s important to remember that the effectiveness of leech therapy in treating sciatica and back discomfort is poorly confirmed, although many more effective treatment methods are available.
What do leeches dislike?
Avoid consuming foods containing onion, garlic, or other spicy spices for a few days before the planned visit. On that day, also pay attention to the cosmetics used. Use unscented soap and avoid moisturising cosmetics that contain fragrance substances. Using perfumes is also not a good idea, as leeches may react negatively to them.
What do leeches secrete?
Leeches secrete many compounds, some of which have proven medicinal properties. These include anticoagulants, analgesics, and anti-inflammatories. The most well-known is hirudin, which is one of the best anticoagulant drugs, and many of the substances are being researched for potential use in humans.
How long does leech therapy last?
Leech therapy can last from a few minutes to several hours, depending on the treated condition and the number of used leeches. Usually, leeches are left on the skin for 30-45 minutes and removed. Some individuals may need multiple treatment sessions to achieve the desired results.
Can you drink alcohol after leeches?
On the day of the visit and after it, it’s not allowed to drink alcohol, coffee, or strong tea or use products that cause dilation of blood vessels. After the procedure, rest is recommended above all so that the regeneration of the suction sites proceeds as quickly as possible.
What does Hirudin do?
Hirudin is a naturally occurring peptide found in the medicinal leech Hirudo medicinalis saliva. It is a thrombin inhibitor used as a drug to prevent blood clotting. By inhibiting thrombin, hirudin prevents blood clotting and can be used to treat conditions such as deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.
How often can leeches be applied?
There’s no general rule for how often leeches can be applied, as it depends on the individual case and the treated condition. However, it’s generally recommended that leeches not be applied more frequently than once every two weeks. In most cases, leeches can be used up to three times a month. After each, it’s best to consult a specialist doctor to determine the best action.