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The Use of Leeches in Medicine

Updated on September 15, 2014

 

Leeches.  Yikes!!!  It is almost everyone’s expression when we see leeches in places we don’t want them to be.  Many people are afraid of leeches and we often wonder why they exist at all.  They are bloodsuckers and we just can’t imagine what contribution they can possibly give mankind.  That is, until we find out that these little creepy crawly creatures can actually be used as therapy.  Leeches can be anywhere where there is water like rivers, lakes, or ponds.  They are also abundant in watery mud.  They can’t live in salt water like beaches, oceans, and seas.  And they can find just about any man or animal that has blood.

 

The Dangers of Leeches

Why are they scary?  One of the scariest characteristic they have is that when they crawl on their preys, they are usually not felt immediately.  And once they start sucking on their prey, they just don’t stop.  Not until they fed themselves enough.  They will eventually fall off from their victims when they’re full.  When do they get full?  One leech can actually take in about 15ml of blood, more or less.  And a leech bite will bleed more than a normal wound, sometimes causing temporary hemophilia to the victim.

 

Another danger about leeches that is not written in most articles is that it should be prevented from entering into any opening of the body (i.e., ears, nose, mouth, etc.).  Any incident like this will prove to be fatal to its victims, damaging the victim’s internal organs, nerves, and tissues that cause internal bleeding.

 

First Aid

Using salt is the most common method used in taking away leeches from human or animal skin.  The safest method would be to apply a heat rub or menthol.

 

I’m afraid there is no first aid for leeches that have entered a body opening, so do treat them as emergency and take them immediately to the nearest hospital.

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Leeches in Medicine

Leeches are used mainly in surgery. They are used in reattaching severed body part which is caused mainly by accidents. Without leeches, a severed body part like finger, toe, ear, and many others will be impossible to reattach to a body because once detached, its nerves and veins are almost dead. Even if doctors try to sew them back in place, blood circulation to this part is halted. Leeches are therefore used to restore blood circulation to the reattached body part. Doctors use leeches to suck blood from the attached tissue to allow normal blood circulation to return to it and the leech saliva can help remove any congested blood from these tissues. Aside from this, leeches are also used in breast reconstruction.


In general, a therapy that uses live organisms as therapeutic medicine is called biotherapy. Leech saliva and leech bite is used as a treatment for blood clots. This treatment is called leech therapy or hirudotherapy. It can help with the treatment and prevention of varicose veins, hemorrhaging, bruising, and many others where blood clotting is the main problem of the ailment. Doctors are also using medicinal leeches to treat more serious health problems like hypertension, stroke, and heart problems where blood clotting of the nerves and arteries are the causes of the disease.


Some Leech Facts and Its Uses in Medicine

There are over 650 known leech species and they are not all bloodsuckers. Some of them are predators that feed on fish or other types of worms. Some of these predators can crawl their way into a body opening without being felt by its victims. These types of leeches are far more dangerous than the bloodsuckers. Once inside a warm body, they can damage internal organs.


Leeches in medicine were first used during the medieval times where bloodletting is a common practice in medicine. Bloodletting is the practice of taking huge amounts of blood from the patient’s body. Bloodletting was believed by medieval doctors to help a patient’s health problems like fever and hypertension. However, the use of it was abused and had been used in so many other health problems and oftentimes has proved to be fatal to the patients. Bloodletting and eventually the use of leeches had died out during the 19th century.


Modern doctors have rediscovered the use of leeches for surgery during the 1990s. Reattaching of a severed body part is impossible without the use of leeches. Of the 650 leech species, only a few can be used in medicine. Modern medicinal leeches are cultivated in a sanitary environment so they are free of bacteria that can cause infections.


Unfortunately though, this type of treatment is not available worldwide. U.S.A., Canada, and some parts of Europe are few countries that have this kind of treatment. In other parts of the world, you’ll have to ask your local doctors if treatment such as this is available in your area.


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    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 6 years ago

      Very well put together I have heard of them being used to suck poison out but not the surgery use.

    • BeatsMe profile image
      Author

      BeatsMe 6 years ago

      Hi Billy, I didn't know about that. Thanks for letting me know. I'm not sure though, if leeches will suck blood if they sense poison in it. I have read in one article that there are times that leeches won't suck blood for some reason. Thanks for reading. :)

    • quicksand profile image

      quicksand 6 years ago

      Thanks for the valuable information on leeches. I shall carry a sachet of salt with me whenever we go off on a holiday. Cheers!

    • BeatsMe profile image
      Author

      BeatsMe 6 years ago

      Hi Quicksand, best of luck on your holidays. Beware of leeches!!! Harharhar!

    • SuperiorInteriors profile image

      SuperiorInteriors 6 years ago from San Diego, California

      Hahaha, eeeeew! That picture really grossed me out! Leeches? No thank you :P

      I think I'll stick with modern methods if they're available... the leeches just give me the heebie jeebies!

      Great Hub, very informative and entertaining! :)

    • BeatsMe profile image
      Author

      BeatsMe 6 years ago

      Hi SuperiorInteriors, I know what you mean. Many of us would really want to use traditional medicine. The leech method is only used when patients have no other choices.

      Thanks for reading. :)

    • profile image

      wow 6 years ago

      jeez that's scary but useful for my report

    • BeatsMe profile image
      Author

      BeatsMe 6 years ago

      Wow! Glad to be of service to you. :)

    • profile image

      Dboyyyy24 6 years ago

      LEECHES!!!!!? EWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!

    • BeatsMe profile image
      Author

      BeatsMe 6 years ago

      Hi, whatever your view on leeches, thanks for dropping by.

    • profile image

      Bonnie Ronnie 6 years ago

      Ha. Used leeches in the Thoracic Surgery Unit, City Hospital, Edinburgh, many years ago - they were well respected for their good work - even had pet names so we could use them in rotation. They were humanely euthanased when their work was done.

    • BeatsMe profile image
      Author

      BeatsMe 6 years ago

      Hi Bonnie, thanks for dropping by and for sharing. :)

    • profile image

      joey  6 years ago

      a good site aim scared of leeches

    • BeatsMe profile image
      Author

      BeatsMe 6 years ago

      Hi Joey, thanks for reading. :)

    • profile image

      Daddy 6 years ago

      We r using them right now for a pt who had his hand cut off! Saved his hand but the tips????

    • BeatsMe profile image
      Author

      BeatsMe 6 years ago

      Thanks for sharing, daddy. :)

    • Ez Kay profile image

      Ez Kay 5 years ago

      Hi Beatsme, so much love and cherish these interesting and educating article of yours which is very well shared.

    • BeatsMe profile image
      Author

      BeatsMe 5 years ago

      Hi Ez Kay, thanks for reading and for the nice comment. :)

    • profile image

      amimo 5 years ago

      10 years ago a leech entered my body through the legs while swimming.its damaged my body living & breeding in my neck.eventually it will kill me.pls help

    • BeatsMe profile image
      Author

      BeatsMe 5 years ago

      Oh, Im sorry 'bout that but don't die just yet, read more hubs. :P :)

    • marimccants profile image

      marimccants 5 years ago

      Wow.. Interesting hub. I don't know this before, thanks for sharing.

    • BeatsMe profile image
      Author

      BeatsMe 5 years ago

      Hi, thanks for reading. Hope you find this useful. :)

    • profile image

      beenleeched 5 years ago

      I had leech therapy after a breast reduction a few weeks ago and it probaby spared me from futher surgeries. It was a little weird and none of my nurses had actually done it before but it was painless and not so gross. I am not sqiueemish so that helped a lot.

    • BeatsMe profile image
      Author

      BeatsMe 5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing, Beenleeched, and happy healing. :)

      I think leeches are not as gross as maggots, though. Cheers.

    • profile image

      rainbug 5 years ago

      I started researching leech and maggot therapy because I have to teach my nursing class about something I find interesting in medicine. I am excited to teach something that most people have never heard of let alone been trained for, I can't wait.

    • BeatsMe profile image
      Author

      BeatsMe 5 years ago

      Hi Rainbug, good luck on your teaching. Hope your class will find it interesting. :)

    • profile image

      pavani 4 years ago

      this helped me a lot for my home work

    • BeatsMe profile image
      Author

      BeatsMe 4 years ago

      Good luck, Pavani.

    • profile image

      Ram 4 years ago

      really awesome.

    • BeatsMe profile image
      Author

      BeatsMe 4 years ago

      :) :)

    • profile image

      anon 4 years ago

      I spotted one in our bathroom (eeks!)-- (we live in a very green rainy area....) and now I've lost it and I want to be lost before it enters any of our orifices...

    • profile image

      Anon 4 years ago

      Thank you for this article- it is very informative..

    • BeatsMe profile image
      Author

      BeatsMe 4 years ago

      Hello Anon, thanks for sharing your leech experience but believe me when I say it's still in your bathroom. :P So beware. lol!!

      Thanks for dropping by and for leaving a nice comment. :)

    • profile image

      Hema John 4 years ago

      I've seen an old man with what we call as Elephant Leg (caused due to mosquito's in india).He use to sleep by the river side since he had no home.Next day morning he noticed few leeches on his legs which sucked his blood. His leg became normal like all other people.This happened around 1991 to 1992.

    • BeatsMe profile image
      Author

      BeatsMe 4 years ago

      Hard to believe but thanks for sharing. :)

    • profile image

      hi 4 years ago

      nice

    • BeatsMe profile image
      Author

      BeatsMe 4 years ago

      :) :)

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 3 years ago from America

      I remember reading about leeches being used in medicine. Our kids hated them when they would get on them while swimming in the lake. I would have to get out the old salt shaker to get them off. Voted up and more on your hub.

    • BeatsMe profile image
      Author

      BeatsMe 3 years ago

      Thanks for dropping by and for sharing, Moonlake. Thanks also for the vote. :D

    • profile image

      annoyed 2 years ago

      turns out leeches will eat a normal meal, after a while. (within the body, !!!arrh)

    • BeatsMe profile image
      Author

      BeatsMe 2 years ago

      Thanks for sharing.

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