The therapeutic effect of leech therapy
Leech therapy is also sometimes called hirudotherapy (from Latin ‘Hirudo’ which means ‘a leech’). It is the oldest method of treatment of various diseases that uses medicinal leeches (Hirudo medicinalis). This type of therapy is widely known since ancient times and it is still ‘alive’; this fact speaks for its effectiveness in fighting diverse health issues.
Therapeutic value of hirudotherapy includes 3 factors:
- Mechanical effect. It is based on the principles of therapeutic bloodletting – when a person loses a certain (small) amount of blood his bloodstream experiences less load and blood pressure is normalized. Fresh inflow of blood brings oxygen and nutrients to the area of inflammation. All these contribute to pain relief and edema removal;
- Reflex action. It is based on the principles of reflexology – a leech bites through the skin in biologically active points leading to various body organs and systems. It is interesting to know that a leech finds such points on its own! It is applied to an active zone on the patient’s body, and then it moves in the right direction, finds the required point, pierces the skin and bites into it. Leech sucks blood and injects healing substances into the bloodstream in turns;
- Biological action. It consists in salivary secretion that is introduced into the blood during leech therapy session. The saliva of leeches contains over 100 biologically active substances some of which have an evident curative effect. The most important are hirudin, hyaluronidase, lipase, serotonin, antistasin, etc.
Leech therapy is effective for various conditions including:
- Gastritis, duodenitis, chronic pancreatitis;
- Peptic ulcer disease;
- Enteritis, colitis, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome);
- Dysbiosis, diarrhea (with a determined cause);
- Some cardiovascular diseases;
- Liver diseases;
- Biliary dyskinesia and other gallbladder disorders;
- Dyskinesia and various motility disturbances including chronic constipations;
- Peritoneal adhesions, etc.
For example, in the case of dysbiosis a patient may experience a considerable improvement after the first few sessions, but long-term curative effect can be obtained after 3 courses of treatment (each consists of 7-10 sessions with an interval of 5-6 days). Leeches are applied not to the stomach as one might think but to the back and lower extremities.
Hirudotherapy is also effective for colitis accompanied with dysbiosis and haemorrhoids. It helps eliminate the manifestations of venous congestion in the cavity of the true pelvis, intestine, lower extremities and the system of hepatic veins.
The treatment of cholecystitis requires from 6 to 8 sessions of hirudotherapy. 4-6 leeches are used for one session, they are applied to the back. The therapy begins with a partial placing of the leeches, the full number of required leeches is used from the second or third session. The interval between the sessions should be about 5 or 6 days, the course of treatment can be repeated in a month.
Leeches treat not only a specific disease but they also improve the overall health.
Leech therapy should be approved by a doctor after a thorough examination. It is very important to relax during a session, so that nothing interferes with the blood flow. That’s why a person should sit (or lie) as comfortable as possible.
It is recommended to apply leeches to the acupuncture points. During a hirudotherapy session hungry leeches are placed (depending on the disease treated) on the heart or liver areas or along the affected vessels, etc. Thus, in the case of inflammatory diseases of the liver and gallbladder leeches should be applied to the right subcostal area as well as to the tailbone (closer to the anus). The area of the skin where the leeches will be placed should be disinfected with alcohol and then rinsed with hot water. Leech bites cause almost no pain, only slight tingling which disappears 15 second later thanks to the natural anesthetics from the leech saliva.
One session lasts from 20 to 40 minutes. Having sucked enough blood leeches usually pull off on their own. Small wounds left by leech teeth are covered with sterile gauze pad, and in order to avoid dizziness the patient should lie for another 30 minutes. However, weakness caused by the procedure is common only in the beginning of the treatment.
Medicinal leeches are grown in special medical laboratories, they are stored in refrigerators and then sold in pharmacies. Hirudotherapy is not as simple as it might seem. Before you start the course of leech treatment, it is a must to discuss it with your doctor. This therapy can be conducted only by a highly qualified specialist who is licensed to provide such type of services. The specialist should also have a medical certificate proving his medical education and that he specializes in hirudotherapy. Self-treatment is not an option, because if you choose wrong areas to apply leeches to, it may cause complications. Healthcare institutions that provide leech treatment should also be licensed to offer such services. One leech is used only once – like a syringe, after that it is destroyed.
Leech therapy is quite popular but not many people know about contraindications to its use. When a leech bites into the skin, a special substance (hirudin) which slows blood coagulability enters the bloodstream. Therefore, this procedure is contraindicated in patients who suffer from any blood disorder. In the case of hemophilia leech bite can lead to a fatal outcome. Due to this effect of hirudin leech therapy should not be conducted in women before or during their periods because it may provoke increased bleeding.
There are some absolute contraindications as well:
- Low blood pressure;
- Iron-deficiency anemia;
- Bleeding diathesis;
- Oncological diseases;
- After cesarean section hirudotherapy is contraindicated for at least three or four months;
- Children up to 7 years old must not be treated using leeches.
The popularity of this method has led to the situation when there appear a lot of frauds who offer their services at home. Treat such offers with extreme caution! A leech grown in insanitary conditions may be ill, also it can be a carrier of such dangerous infections as HIV or hepatitis. In medical establishments leeches are a disposable medical ‘tool’. But, theoretically, a leech can be used several times – in 2-3 months after its last use, once it has digested the blood it sucked. If leeches are misused, it may lead to various health problems. You can make use of hirudotherapy only after your blood has been tested and you have talked to an experienced hirudotherapy specialist as well as to a doctor who monitors your chronic disease (providing you have such disease).