Leech Therapy: Benefits, Risks and FAQs

Leech therapy: indications, safety, and FAQs. Understand benefits, risks, and consult professionals for informed decisions on this alternative treatment.

8. Sep 2023
Leech Therapy: Benefits, Risks and FAQs

Leech therapy, often of the species Hirudo medicinalis or Hirudo verbana, are used in leech treatment, also known as hirudotherapy, to treat a variety of medical ailments. Leech treatment has been used for millennia in many cultures and is still employed in certain contemporary medical situations, despite the fact that it may seem strange or even antiquated.



How leech therapy typically works?

1. Leeches are Carefully Selected

Medicinal leeches used in therapy are often raised in controlled environments to ensure they are disease-free and meet specific quality standards.

2. Application to the Affected Area

The leeches are applied to the patient's skin, usually in the vicinity of the affected or painful area. They are allowed to attach themselves, at which point they bite through the skin and begin to feed on the patient's blood.

3. Blood-letting and Anti-coagulation

As leeches feed, they release saliva containing various bioactive substances, including anticoagulants, vasodilators, and anesthetics. These substances prevent the patient's blood from clotting and also help dilate blood vessels, facilitating blood flow.

4. Blood Removal

The leeches continue to feed until they are full, at which point they naturally detach from the patient's skin. A single leech can ingest a significant amount of blood, sometimes up to five times its own weight.

5. Therapeutic Benefits

Proponents of leech therapy believe that it can provide various therapeutic benefits, including improved circulation, reduced inflammation, and relief from pain. It is sometimes used in the treatment of conditions such as varicose veins, arthritis, and certain skin disorders.

6. Medical Supervision

Leech therapy should be administered by qualified healthcare professionals who are experienced in the procedure. Sterile conditions must be maintained to prevent infection, and the patient's vital signs should be monitored throughout the process.

It's important to note that leech therapy is not generally acknowledged in contemporary medicine, and its effectiveness for many ailments is still up for discussion and more investigation. Infection and allergic reactions are some possible dangers associated with using leeches. As a result, it should only be used as a supplementary or alternative therapy when supervised by a licenced healthcare professional.

When doing reconstructive surgery or limb reattachment, leeches are sometimes utilised in modern medicine for particular goals including enhancing blood flow and minimising venous congestion. Medical experts are closely monitoring and controlling this application.

What are the Benefits of Leech Therapy?

Although it's crucial to keep in mind that many of these claims are based on anecdotal evidence and conventional practises rather than thorough scientific study, leech treatment has been said to offer a number of possible advantages. The following are a few alleged advantages of leech therapy:

1. Improved Blood Circulation

Leeches produce anticoagulant and vasodilator chemicals that can increase blood flow in the treated region. For illnesses associated with impaired circulation, this is thought to be advantageous.

2. Pain Relief

Leech saliva contains anticoagulant and anaesthetic substances that may relieve the pain and discomfort brought on by specific medical disorders, such as musculoskeletal pain or arthritis.

3. Reduction of Inflammation

By eliminating extra blood and possibly inflammatory compounds from the body, leech treatment may help decrease inflammation.

4. Treatment of Varicose Veins

By enhancing blood flow and lessening the appearance of enlarged veins, leeches have occasionally been used to cure varicose veins.

5. Treatment of Certain Skin Conditions

Sometimes leech treatment is used to treat skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis. It is thought that the leech's saliva may be beneficial for various ailments.

6. Detoxification

Leech treatment has some supporters who contend that it can aid in detoxifying the blood, although there is few evidence to support this claim.

7. Improved Wound Healing

In some medical settings, leech treatment is employed to aid in the healing of wounds, particularly when tissue transplants or reattachment operations are involved. The ability to sustain blood flow to the injured area is helpful for recovery.

Leech treatment must be approached with care and scepticism. Although there may be anecdotal evidence of beneficial results, the scientific data backing many of these assertions is sometimes scant or ambiguous. Leech treatment also has possible dangers that should be carefully examined, including as allergic reactions and infections.

What are the Side Effects of Leech Therapy?

Like any medical technique, leech therapy has possible hazards and adverse effects. These must be understood before leech therapy is considered as a therapeutic option. Following are a few potential hazards and adverse effects of leech therapy:

1. Infection

The possibility of infection with leech treatment is one of the main issues. Leeches may cause localised or systemic infections by introducing germs from their surroundings into the patient's bloodstream. Infections can result in discomfort, swelling, and redness and may need to be treated with antibiotics.

2. Allergic Reactions

Leech saliva contains chemicals that certain people may be sensitive to, which can cause allergic responses. There might be swelling, hives, itching, and problems breathing. Extreme allergic responses can be fatal and need rapid medical care.

3. Bleeding

Although leeches are used to remove extra blood from the body, if the treatment is not carefully watched and regulated, excessive bleeding may happen. Anaemia or other consequences may result from this.

4. Bruising and Scarring

The attachment place may become bruised and scarred after a leech bite. These side effects may be especially serious if the therapy is applied to visible or important aesthetic body parts.

5. Pain and Discomfort

Some people may experience pain and discomfort throughout the leech attachment and feeding phase. Distress both during and after the surgery may result from this.

6. Transmission of Diseases

Although medical leeches are often obtained from controlled surroundings, there is a theoretical possibility that leech treatment might result in the spread of illness. Despite being a modest danger, it should nevertheless be taken into account.

7. Anemia

Leech treatment sessions that are too frequent or prolonged may lower the patient's haemoglobin levels and possibly cause anaemia.

8. Psychological Distress

Some people may experience psychological anguish or anxiety at the sight of leeches or at the thought of bleeding.

9. Lack of Scientific Evidence

Many of the alleged advantages of leech treatment are not backed up by reliable scientific data. As a result, it is unclear if this therapy is useful for many different medical disorders.

Is Leech Therapy safe?

Like many medical procedures, leech therapy has potential advantages as well as disadvantages. Several variables, including as the patient's health, the specific ailment being treated, and the skill of the healthcare professional giving the therapy, determine whether leech therapy is seen to be safe or not.

Here are some considerations regarding the safety of leech therapy:

1. Professional Expertise

The training and expertise of the medical practitioner doing the treatment will determine how safe leech therapy is. Only professionals with the necessary training and familiarity with hygienic rules should administer it.

2. Sterile Conditions

To reduce the danger of infection, it is essential to make sure the leeches are purchased from reliable sources and that the therapy is carried out in sterile settings.

3. Patient Health

People with specific medical issues, such as bleeding disorders, anaemia, or weakened immune systems, may not be a good candidate for leech therapy. Before choosing leech treatment, a complete medical evaluation should be done.

4. Allergies

Leech saliva contains chemicals to which some people may be sensitive, which can cause allergic responses. Before starting, healthcare professionals should ask about any allergies.

5. Monitoring

It is crucial to closely monitor the patient both during and after the surgery to quickly spot any negative responses or consequences.

6. Single-Use Leeches

Leeches used for therapy should not be reused on various patients in order to lower the danger of infection and the spread of illness.

7. Limited Scientific Evidence

It's significant to highlight that there is less scientific data to back up many of the advantages of leech treatment. Patients should be informed that its efficacy for particular illnesses may be ambiguous.

Leech treatment has been successfully employed in various medical settings, such as reconstructive surgery or limb reattachment, to increase blood flow and speed up the healing process. In these circumstances, it is normally administered under strict controls by qualified medical personnel.

10 Common Indications For Leech Therapy

1. Baldness and Hair Loss

Leach therapy makes blood flow better. When leeches are applied to areas where hair is thinning or falling out, greater blood flow aids in bringing vital nutrients to strengthen hair roots. This may promote greater hair growth. But keep in mind that each person's outcomes with this therapy may vary.

The innate antibacterial qualities present in leech saliva might be advantageous for people suffering from alopecia brought on by fungal infections or dandruff. This characteristic has two functions: first, it protects against local infections, and second, it helps fight any pre-existing illnesses.

2. Ear and Hearing Problems

Leech therapy can help with common ear issues like hearing loss, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and ear infections. It can also benefit people with other ear problems.

Leeches produce substances when they are on your skin that lessen your discomfort. They also create chemicals that are beneficial in preventing blood clotting and dissolving clots that have already formed. Their compounds can enlarge your blood vessels, improving blood flow. They even release substances that eliminate the bacteria that cause ear issues.

3. Skin Disease

Infections are defended against by our skin. The epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis are its three layers, and they are home to skin cells, small blood arteries, sweat glands, and hair follicles. The epidermis and dermis, the top two layers, are where the majority of skin problems occur. Leeches aid in treating several common skin conditions by increasing blood flow to these layers. Psoriasis is one type of recurring skin condition. Leech treatment can postpone their recurrence and increase the interval between these episodes.

4. Boils

Boils are skin illnesses that begin as a painful red patch on the skin and gradually worsen and swell. They develop an elevated centre that contains pus. When our body fights off infections, pus, a thick, yellowish-white fluid, is produced.

One leech is placed on the boil's centre to consume the pus, and more leeches are placed all around it to increase blood flow. Together, they effectively lessen the boil's swelling, discomfort, and pressure.

5. Shingles - Pain Relief Therapy

Adults who have shingles have excruciating skin agony brought on by the varicella-zoster virus. When the immune system is compromised by sickness or stress, it frequently occurs. Redness, discomfort, and tiny fluid-filled blisters are some of the symptoms. The discomfort may be unbearable and continue for weeks or months.

In addition to lessening the intensity and length of the pain, leech treatment for shingles also helps by preventing neuralgia, a kind of chronic nerve pain. Saliva from leech has potent analgesic properties. In some patients, a single leech treatment session can relieve pain for as long as six months or more.

6. Diabetes

Hirudin, a key component of leech saliva that prevents blood coagulation, is present in leech saliva. Patients with diabetes have blood that is thick and sugary, which increases the risk of blood clots.

Hirudin improves blood flow and avoids clots. The stress on the heart and blood vessels is reduced, which is very beneficial for healing. This is crucial since healing may be delayed in diabetes persons.

7. Osteoarthritis

People with osteoarthritis commonly suffer joint pain, stiffness, and edoema, making it hard to move and conduct everyday duties. 

Leech treatment users reported fewer joint discomfort, stiffness, and edoema. Highly renowned scientific investigations reported this improvement. These research shown how effective leech treatment is.

In these research, participants reported feeling better and moving more readily the following day. It raised their standard of living. Osteoarthritis patients often get leech treatment every 6 to 8 months. It is secure and frequently effectively treats arthritic symptoms.

8. Wellbeing

Leeches transfer certain chemicals from their saliva into our systems as they eat. These chemicals have a number of beneficial effects. Our cells function better, our blood flow is improved, our immune system is strengthened, and we feel better as a result.

More than 100 beneficial components in leech saliva combine to improve our health. Among them are: 

  • "Anti-elastase" to stop skin from getting old and keep it strong.
  • "Hyaluronic acid" that fights wrinkles.
  • "Steroids" to keep our skin looking youthful.
  • "Lipids and phosphatidic acids" that protect our skin.
  • "Elastin and collagenase" to relax our body.


The "serotonin" and "endorphin" that leeches give us help us feel wonderful. They have something like to "histamine" to improve blood flow as well as "eglin" to decrease swelling.

9. Vascular Disease

More than 100 beneficial components in leech saliva are beneficial to healing and general health. One of them, hirudin, prevents blood from clotting; another, calin, also aids in that process. These prevent blood clots from developing.

In addition, the hyaluronidase and Factor Xa inhibitor found in leech spit thicken the fluid around our cells.

Another substance is acetylcholine, and there are also carboxypeptidase A inhibitors and substances like histamine. These widen our blood arteries and improve blood flow.

Together with others that we may not yet be aware of, all these components of leech saliva act to thin down our blood and improve blood flow. Blood clots formed by thick blood can cause high blood pressure, strokes, or heart attacks.

10. Sport Enjuries

Speeding up the healing process for sports injuries is particularly beneficial with leech treatment. Leech saliva has unique components that help lessen discomfort, edoema, and inflammation in the damaged region.

These unique elements widen the blood vessels and combine to increase blood flow to the wounded area. Our body heals itself more quickly as a result. When leeches are applied to an injury, the swelling, discomfort, and inflammation are reduced, allowing us to move more freely and return to regular life more quickly.

The number of times we require leech therapy for a sports injury depends on the severity of the damage and how well our body heals.


In conclusion, leech treatment has a variety of possible advantages and disadvantages. While it has been used for a variety of medical conditions, the medical community is currently looking into it and debating whether or not it is beneficial. Before deciding to use this alternative kind of treatment, patients contemplating leech therapy should obtain professional advice and carefully assess the benefits and risks.

It's essential to speak with a skilled healthcare practitioner if you're considering leech therapy for a particular problem since they can offer advice, weigh the advantages and disadvantages, and help you decide if it's the best course of action for your personal situation. In order to reduce potential consequences, you should always make sure that any leech therapy is delivered by skilled specialists under sterile settings.


What is leech therapy?

Leech therapy, also known as hirudotherapy, is a traditional medical practice that involves the use of medicinal leeches to treat various medical conditions.

How do medicinal leeches work in therapy?

In their saliva, medicinal leeches release chemicals like anticoagulants and vasodilators. These chemicals widen blood arteries, promoting blood flow while preventing blood from clotting.

What are the common indications for leech therapy?

Vein congestion, varicose veins, arthritis, thrombophlebitis, skin disorders, migraines, hematomas, chronic wounds, tendinitis, and muscular soreness are examples of common symptoms.

Is leech therapy safe?

The skill of the practitioner, the sterility of the environment, and the patient's health are only a few of the variables that affect how safe leech therapy is. It might put you at risk for infections or allergic reactions.

Is leech therapy scientifically proven to be effective?

Leech therapy advantages are frequently claimed, however there is few scientific data to back these claims, and it is still unclear if leech therapy is effective for treating a variety of illnesses.

How are leeches obtained and handled for therapy?

In order to assure that the therapeutic leeches are free of illness, they are normally grown in controlled conditions. After each session, they should be single-use only and thrown away.

Are there any potential side effects of leech therapy?

Infection, allergic reactions, bleeding, bruising, scars, discomfort, and emotional anguish are a few examples of possible adverse effects.

Can anyone undergo leech therapy?

Leech treatment is not appropriate for everyone. Some people may not be eligible if they have specific sensitivities or medical issues. Before choosing leech treatment, a comprehensive medical evaluation is required.

How long does a typical leech therapy session last?

An average session lasts between 30 and 60 minutes, during which the leeches attach, feed, then spontaneously detach.

Where can I find a qualified practitioner for leech therapy?

Some alternative medicine practises and specialised medical facilities have qualified medical personnel with competence in leech treatment. Make that the practitioner has the necessary training and adheres to the recommended safety procedures.

Can leech therapy replace conventional medical treatments?

The use of leech therapy shouldn't take the place of standard medical care. It should be explored with a healthcare physician in addition to conventional care because it is sometimes seen as a supplemental or alternative therapy.


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