Leech Therapy in Medicine – Separating Myths from Facts

Leech Therapy – Leeches in Medicine

Leeches are not new to medicine. They have been used before, especially in ancient Egypt, primarily for bloodletting rather than directly treating infections, skin diseases, dental issues, and nervous system abnormalities. Fast-forward to present times, and these squirmy creatures are now familiar in surgery rooms.

Currently, a significant number of health practitioners are using leech therapy because it is an inexpensive and simple way to avoid complications. But just how effective is this therapy? Let’s explore what you need to know about it.

How Does the Therapy Work?

The first thing you need to know is that medicinal leeches are kept specifically to help health practitioners treat various conditions. These have three jaws with numerous tiny teeth that they use to puncture human skin and anticoagulants.

Once they do that, the leeches begin extracting blood for a period that can last up to 45 minutes, but one leech typically extracts about 5-15ml of blood.

Leech therapy is commonly used to treat varicose veins and blood clots or in cosmetic surgery, where individuals risk losing soft tissue.

It is important to note that persons suffering from compromised arteries, blood clotting conditions, severe anemia, or immune deficiencies should avoid leech therapy. The same applies to pregnant women and children.

Where Can Leech Therapy Be Used?

During a leech therapy session, live leeches are attached to a specific area so that they can draw blood. As they do that, these creatures release peptides and proteins that thin out the blood and prevent clotting.

In turn, that prevents tissue death and improves blood circulation.  Here are some medical conditions that can be treated using leech therapy.


Some clinical studies confirm leech therapy is ideal for joint issues, including osteoarthritis. This is because leech saliva has anesthetic and anti-inflammatory properties that reduce tenderness and pain in the affected joint.

Heart Disease

Claims that leech therapy improves blood flow and reduces inflammation in cardiovascular issues are not supported by robust clinical evidence. Over the last few years, the therapy has been gaining acceptance as an alternative therapy for persons with cardiovascular disorders and diseases.


Leech therapy for cancer is under preliminary study but remains largely experimental with no conclusive results. This is because leech saliva contains special enzymes and platelet inhibitors known to slow cancer progression.

Animal studies on leech saliva impacting cancer cell migration are preliminary and should not be considered conclusive.


Diabetes is known to cause a myriad of problems, including tissue death, which may then necessitate the amputation of limbs. To avoid this, blood has to flow to affected tissues without clotting. Medicinal leeches can improve blood circulation and ultimately prevent tissue death and amputation.

Cosmetic Leech therapy

Leeches are now popular for promoting healing after surgery. Research on leech therapy in surgeries primarily supports its use in reconstructive procedures rather than cosmetic enhancements. The therapy’s effect during and after cosmetic surgical procedures helps the body heal naturally.

You may also want to note that the therapy has been used to treat hair loss and baldness because it improves blood circulation.

Does it Have Side Effects?

Although leech therapy is simple and inexpensive, it does come with a few risks. For instance, you can get a bacterial infection using leeches outside of a controlled environment. That makes persons with autoimmune diseases unsuitable candidates for the therapy.

If things go wrong after a session of leech therapy, blood will flow out of the treated area, and the bite created by the leech will not close. Other times, leeches will move to other areas of the body where the therapy is not required, leading to unnecessary blood loss.

Another thing is that leech saliva can cause an allergic reaction in some people, thus leading to undesired effects.

Leech Therapy – The Takeaway

It may be hard to imagine or believe that leeches can be used to treat various medical issues but there is a reason why leech therapy is gaining momentum in modern medicine.

Research on leech therapy is ongoing, and current studies are exploratory rather than definitive in establishing its medical efficacy. If you are suffering from conditions like cardiovascular disease, arthritis, or diabetes, you may want to try these creatures.

See Also

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Current Version
April 12, 2024
Updated By
Daniyal Haider, MD
September 24, 2021
Written By
Shubham Grover

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