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  • Writer's pictureGregory Curylo

Hirudotherapy, or treatment with medicinal leeches.

Updated: Feb 25, 2022

Not surprisingly, leeches have been making a comeback in medicine over the last decade. The efficacy they offer is immense. Dr. Maciej Paruzel plastic surgeon and father of modern Medicinal Leech Therapy says: "...Sometimes the effects of such therapy are shocking. Lower blood pressure stabilised cholesterol, reduced migraine headaches and tinnitus are just some examples...".

History of Hirudotherapy

Leech therapy was used in ancient times in Ayurvedic medicine, Tibetan medicine, Egypt and Greece. Probably already in the Stone Age, leeches were used to bleed blood as a habitat for demons or evil spirits that cause disease. In pre-Columbian America, wards were valued by the Aztecs, believing that evil spirits would leave people with them. In the Mayan state, the art of bloodletting was in the hands of a special group of priest-healers. Notes on the medical use of leeches go back to the beginning of civilization. In ancient Egypt, the use of leeches was as old as the pyramids. In the Middle Ages, the demand for leeches was so great that it almost contributed to the extinction of these animals.

Treatment with leeches consisted of cutting or puncturing the skin and putting the leeches in place. In ancient Greece, blood was treated with infectious diseases. Blood often bleeds from a vein in the elbow joint or from other veins - on the foot, under the knee, and even under the tongue. This procedure was used by Hippocrates (460-377 BC) but did not give it any special meaning. The oldest verse that mentions a leech is from the Bible. In chapter 30 of Solomon's parables (verse 15) they say, “The leech has two daughters: Bring it! Bring! Three things are never saturated, four do not say: Enough. "


Leeches in modern medicine and science.

Hirudotherapy (Medicinal Leech Therapy) is a scientifically proven treatment with medicinal leeches. Three varieties of leeches Hirudo medicinalis, Hirudo Verbana or Hirudo Orientalis have been used for centuries to treat patients. In the past, leeches have proven to be effective in treating many diseases and hard-to-heal wounds. Today, leeches can be used to treat abscesses, arthritis, glaucoma, myasthenia gravis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), thrombosis, musculoskeletal injuries and some venous disorders. Leeches can also be used in plastic surgery and for some blood circulation problems. During feeding, leeches secrete a complex mixture of various biologically and pharmacologically active substances into the wound.

In sports injuries, hirudotherapy improves circulation and innervation of damaged areas, regeneration of damaged hands, swelling, stimulates rapid bone fusion and tendon regeneration: acute or chronic Achilles tendonitis, tennis and golf elbow, frozen shoulder, fractures, sprains, dislocations, muscle and tendon ruptures, bruises and haematomas, degenerative diseases.

Hirudin is the main component of leech saliva. It is sometimes used to describe all the active ingredients in leech saliva. The name hirudotherapy comes from the word 'hirudo', which means 'leech'. The compounds that can be found in leech saliva - commonly known as 'hirudo-compounds' - are secretions from the salivary glands of leeches. They contain over 120-140 bioactive substances, some of which are still being studied. Knowing how they work and what the health benefits give us new therapeutic options.

Some enzymes of the salivary glands of leeches:

  • Pain-relieving compounds - still being studied. They dull the pain at the site of the leech's bite.

  • Compounds with vasodilating properties - Hyaluronidase: prevents infection and improves absorption. An enzyme that cleaves hyaluronic acid, reducing its viscosity and increasing the permeability of connective tissue and therefore fluid absorption.

  • Hirudin - a potent anticoagulant that prevents blood clotting by binding to thrombin.

  • Antibiotic substances - prevent infections.


Leeches research

Browsing, I found many studies supporting the effectiveness of leech enzymes, such as improving knee osteoarthritis, overcoming congestive swelling and even improving pain in cancer patients. Kalender et al (2010) published the first report indicating possible leech activity in cancer pain when a 62-year-old man with synchronous renal cell carcinoma and smooth cell myxoma was admitted with severe low back pain. The pain was refractory to radiotherapy and systemic and epidural analgesia infusion. After two months, the patient came to the clinic in good condition without pain. The patient reported self-treatment with seven lumbar leeches, which resulted in complete healing of the pain.

Koeppen et al (2014) confirm the effectiveness of medicinal leech therapy for pain syndromes, stating that: "A specific analgesic substance in leech saliva has not yet been identified. Pain relief from leech therapy is rapid, effective and long-lasting in many conditions". Bäcker et al. (2011) find that a single session of hirudotherapy is more effective in the short term, in reducing pain intensity in the short term, and in improving physical function and quality of life in the intermediate-term (4 weeks and 8 weeks, respectively) to rehabilitation exercises. Although, limitations of this study are the lack of blinding and the small number of patients.


Leeches in my practice.

I use Medicinal Leech Therapy to treat conditions such as endometriosis, skin infections, bone infections, IBS, RA, chronic joint pain, post-surgical pain, post-traumatic swelling, nerve inflammation, varicose veins and more. For example, a 48-year-old, accountant, client had been suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) for 6 years and developed new food allergies each year, slept only 3 hours a day on alcohol alone (this alone put him to sleep), having simple food. After applying 10 leeches to his abdomen, the client felt relief 3 days after the treatment. I can eat more food again (after 6 years of starvation), exercise, sleep, relax more easily and no longer need alcohol.

34 years old, female, office worker, diagnosed with early-onset rheumatoid arthritis. The client could not bend her finger for 2 weeks. After applying 4 leeches once, after 2 days the fingers could be bent, the large swelling subsided and after a week the hand returned to normal appearance and function.

I also used one leech for a tooth infection (antibiotics did not help) of a 32-year-old man, a car mechanic. I applied one leech to the gum below the abscess. The client felt no pain during the treatment. The next morning was painless. After the treatment, the client was still advised to visit the dentist.


Leeches are now effective in treating many difficult conditions. Scientists and doctors around the world are revisiting their use due to their simplicity, effectiveness and fewer side effects than conventional drug therapy. However, the public is still skeptical about the use of leeches due to poor information from doctors reporting the potential benefits of such therapy. I believe that leech therapy can benefit many branches of medicine by alleviating the pain and suffering of many people, but also by reducing treatment times - and this will be the future of medicine and perhaps in the future, instead of leeches, we will only have a syringe of leech enzymes if science breaks their secret.


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