Sunday, October 12, 2008

Leech Therapy: Is It Safe For You?

Present a random stranger with a leech and he’ll most likely have disgust written all over his face. Tell him that you’re going to let the leech bite him and he’ll look at you as if you’ve given him a death threat. Indeed, people’s reactions to leeches today are quite exaggerated and it’s almost funny to see how people over react to this poor and simple creature with no backbone to speak of. All people would usually remember are blotched camping trips where skinny-dipping led to lots of screaming and thrashing around because their legs suddenly got decorated with little black bloodsuckers. But, really, leeches are relatively harmless – not only that, they’re also very useful.

As you may have heard, the use of leeches in the field of medicine is widespread and very much accepted. They’re popular in the field of plastic surgery, especially for cases where grafting is quite difficult and also for reconstructive surgery. They’re also quite popular in microsurgery because of their ability to liquefy blood clots, thereby keeping the blood flowing and encouraging circulation.

But the idea of willingly letting a leech bite would be enough to make someone turn tail and run to the nearest exit. But really, leech therapy, aside from the minor inconveniences, is relatively harmless.


Of course, bites usually equate to pain and a leech’s bite is no exception, however, the pain that stems from a leech’s bite is slight. Some people say that it’s hardly noticeable and others say that it hurts as much as a wasp’s sting – but this is rather rare. The slight stinging sensation of a leech’s bite usually lasts for only about one to five minutes and after that, their natural local anesthetic effect kicks in. Usually, a patient’s pain is connected to their anxiety before the procedure, so simply put, the more you dread it, the more it hurts! So, the best thing is to try and distract yourself whenever leeches are applied and you probably won’t feel a thing.

Pruritus [Itchiness]

Itching on the site of the bite for the first few days is a common side effect of leech therapy. It’s not an allergic reaction, though people often mistake it to be so and it’s advised that the patient should be advised to avoid scratching the area because it delays wound healing. Local natural remedies for itching can be used, like cold moist wraps or vinegar wraps and if the itching is intense, antipruritic drugs like Fenistil ointment or an oral antihistamine can be used.

Blood Loss

Leeches are blood suckers, meaning that whenever they attach to your skin, they ingest some of your blood. Now, in the wild imaginations of people who abhor creepy crawly things, leeches can suck a person’s blood until the person shrivels up and dies, but of course, we know that this is really not the case! Leeches only suck about a teaspoon of blood and when they’re full, they naturally fall off. Of course leeches also have an enzyme called Hirudin in their saliva, which is an anticoagulant that is injected into a person’s bloodstream. However, blood may keep seeping several hours after the bite, which may cause some anxiety for the patient, but is nothing to worry about.


A leech’s body contains bacteria that may cause infection, but these microorganisms are easily killed by antibiotics, therefore it’s quite safe to use leech therapy.

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