Research, Technology

Leeches are still used in medicine, but for what?

Some Medieval Medical Practicesshock. What is the cost of bloodletting, the preparation of medicines from mummies, or, for example, a tobacco enema, when smoke was blown into the rectum of the deceased in order to reanimate him. It would seem that those terrible times are far in the past. However, medicine has something to surprise you even now, for example, herudotherapy. Many patients are very surprised when doctors resort to leeches for medicinal purposes, because at one time this was considered charlatanism. However, in 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved leeches as a medical device. In addition, in Russia, the pharmacy leech is registered as a medicinal product. But what diseases and how do these blood-sucking parasites treat?

Leeches are actively used in modern medicine


  • 1 Why are leeches used in medicine
  • 2 How leeches work
  • 3 How effective is leech therapy?
  • 4 What leeches are used for medical purposes

Why are leeches used in medicine?

When a person's own skin is transplanted ormuscle tissue taken from another, healthy place, doctors connect the blood vessels of the graft with vessels from the surrounding tissue to provide blood supply. However, such operations are not always successful, that is, sometimes the graft begins to die.

In this case, the patient is returned tothe operating room, where doctors examine the sutures and reattach the blood vessels. But in this case, it is not always possible to achieve a good result. Despite the connection of the vessels, blood flow may still be limited. As a result, blood begins to accumulate in the transplanted tissue and does not flow further.

Leeches are often used after tissue grafts

In this case, doctors resort to the help of leeches.By sticking to the transplanted tissue, they provide temporary life support until the blood vessels restore normal blood flow. Without this procedure, the transplanted tissue may die.

Also, physicians who are engaged in herudotherapy,recommend the use of leeches in diseases associated with increased blood clotting and viscosity, as well as blood stasis and deterioration of microcirculation. These include thrombosis and thrombophlebitis, varicose veins, etc.

How Leech Treatment Works

Leeches, of course, do not cure any diseaseby getting rid of "bad blood", as it was previously believed. However, they still have some healing properties. When a leech bites, it slowly sucks out blood and injects hirudin and viburnum, which are compounds present in its saliva. These substances prevent blood clotting.

Leech dilates blood vessels and improves blood circulation

In addition, leech saliva containshistamine-like substances that dilate blood vessels and improve blood flow. Doctors, of course, use anticoagulants such as heparin, which prevent blood clots from forming after a tissue transplant. But, as mentioned above, in some cases, active blood sucking is still required.

Depending on the size of the graft and the degreehyperemia, leeches can be used from 3 to 10 days or more until the tissue returns to normal. Each swollen leech is replaced by a new, exhausted one. The used leech is drowned in alcohol, since they cannot be reused. Typically, a new leech is applied to the transplanted tissue every four hours.

How effective is leech treatment?

Study involving 277patients, showed the effectiveness of this method of treatment at the level of 78%. According to experts, this is a very good result. However, for full confidence in the effectiveness of hirudotherapy, a larger and randomized study is required.

Skin infections may develop after the use of leeches

It must be said that this treatment has not onlypositive, but also negative sides - patients can develop skin infections. The reason is the bacteria Aeromonas, which live in the intestines of leeches and are present in their saliva. Breeders usually don't use antibiotics as the bacteria will come back anyway. Therefore, they try to simply starve leeches so that there is no blood in their intestines. In this case, the number of bacteria is reduced to a minimum.

However, there is still a risk, soIn hospitals, doctors prescribe antibiotics to patients as a preventive measure. But there is recent evidence that some Aeromonas bacteria are developing resistance to common antibiotics. This makes it difficult to use therapy.

In medicine, leeches grown in laboratories are used.

What kind of leeches are used for medical purposes

There are more than 600 types of leeches, but inIn medicine, the European leech Hirudo medicalis or the Mediterranean Hirudo verbana are most commonly used. They have three sawtooth jaws, each with about 100 teeth. Leeches pierce human skin with them. It feels like being pricked with a needle.

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Of course, leeches from the pond for use innot suitable for medical purposes. Only pharmacies are used, which are grown in laboratory conditions. It takes breeders a year to two years to grow a leech that is ready for medical use. The process involves feeding them at three weeks old, eight to ten weeks old, and then four to five months old, after which the leeches are starved for up to two years. Then they go to hospitals to treat patients.

Thus, the practice of using blood-sucking animals, which came to us from the Middle Ages, continues to occupy an important place in modern medicine.