Is Leech Therapy Effective? Let's Talk About It

Is Leech Therapy Effective? Let's Talk About It

Mai Delacruz

Mai Delacruz
Personal Fitness Trainer & Health Coach

Updated on 12/7/2022

Recently, I embarked on the risky adventure of trying out unusual medical techniques by engaging in leech therapy. I won't forget it anytime soon because it wasn't an outstanding experience.

It shouldn't be surprising that leech treatment was peculiar in its sensations.

Even though leech therapy dates back a significant amount of time before the medieval period, it has an entirely medieval sound.

The ancient Egyptians, Indians, Arabs, and Greeks utilized leeches as a kind of medical treatment.

Leech therapy was used to treat various conditions, including inflammation, skin illnesses, dental difficulties, problems with the nervous system, and more (Reliable Source).

The practice continued to be expected in many different regions until very recently. For example, the Manchester Royal Infirmary in the United Kingdom utilized 50,000 leeches over 1831.

Hirudotherapy, which is another name for leech therapy, is still practiced by a significant number of licensed medical practitioners in the modern day. Following finger reattachment operations and surgeries on the soft tissues of the face, the leech has been used with success. The sponge saw a comeback in favor in the 1970s and has been employed in some cases. In addition, it is sometimes utilized during microsurgeries, including plastic or reconstructive surgery.

In areas of the body where blood flow has slowed down or ceased entirely, leeches can assist in restoring it, averting tissue death.


There are "alternative" applications for leech treatment.

The purported advantages of using medical leeches have been significantly expanded in today's world when alternative and complementary therapies are more well-liked than ever before.

According to the claims of one clinic, hirudotherapy can be utilized to treat a wide variety of ailments. These conditions include migraines, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, infertility, hepatitis, cystitis, sinusitis, glaucoma, and chronic renal failure.

I observed dermatitis when perusing the extensive list of possible applications. Since I was a youngster, I've suffered from eczema, and my symptoms tend to get more severe during the colder months. Therefore, I had high hopes that hirudotherapy would be able to solve that problem for me. I have to confess that despite my rational pessimism, I had a glimpse of optimism.

How Do Leeches Do Their Mysterious Feats?

How Do Leeches Do Their Mysterious Feats?

As they extract their food from your veins, leeches expel a variety of biologically active chemicals, which may include the following:

  • Thanks to the local anesthetic, the discomfort has been much reduced. It makes it possible for a leech to get its food from our veins without causing much agony.
  • Local vasodilator: This will increase the amount of blood flow in the bite area, which will increase its food supply.
  • Anticoagulant agents (hirudin): The presence of these products in the leech's blood helps to guarantee that the blood does not clot while it is being fed.
  • Platelet aggregation inhibitors, such as calin, prevent platelets from adhering to one another, which usually occurs during the healing process of wounds.
  • A bewildering variety of compounds may be discovered in a leech's saliva, including around 60 proteins.
  • Source You Can Rely On. It is believed that once this concoction of chemicals is absorbed into the bloodstream, it will trigger a chain reaction that will result in several positive health effects.
  • There are valid reasons to pursue more research into the utilization of leeches, even though most of the claims made by modern-day leech-peddlers are met with skepticism from the scientific community.
  • For instance, one research discovered that seniors improved their vascular function after receiving leech therapy. At the same time, another, more limited study (without a control group) found that eczema symptoms improved after receiving leech therapy.
  • There is even some indication that compounds taken from leech saliva could be able to assist the spread of cancer to other parts of the body.

A Reliable Source For Alleviating The Pain Associated With Cancer

A Reliable Source For Alleviating The Pain Associated

Source You Can Rely On.

Others in the field of study are curious about whether or not hirudin may be beneficial in the treatment of arthritis. These individuals are being studied by leech-obsessed medical specialists who are looking into a wide variety of ailments.

The day has finally come (finally)

On the way to this leeching session, I had quite a few opportunities that did not pan out. To make a reservation, I was required to supply the outcomes of my most recent blood test (to check that I was not anemic or HIV-positive).

The Encounter With The Leeches

The Encounter With The Leeches

But then, the day before my appointment, the hemorrhoid therapist had to cancel on me; he'd been having problems getting insured by the official hemorrhoid therapy organization since he refused to buy their "overpriced" leeches. The official hemorrhoid therapy organization had a problem with him buying their sponges.

Because traditional insurance companies are not particularly enthusiastic about being engaged with hirudotherapy, he was forced to remain in an infuriating state of limbo in which he did not have access to any leeches.

Then, after making contact with yet another hirudotherapist, she again canceled at the very last minute, citing that a "renowned" soccer star had been hurt and required "urgent" care.

As a result of this long buildup, my nerves were a little bit frayed as I waited for the therapist in the comfort of my own house (the fact that it was a home visit made it even more surreal, for some reason).

A terrible encounter that a coworker had with a wild leech was another thing that was going through my head. His narrative begins with a substantial amount of blood loss and finishes with a considerable illness, but I won't go into the full gruesome description here.

A lively and chatty woman from Eastern Europe served as the hirudotherapist. She was well-versed in the leech's ways, which helped set my mind at rest as she swiftly transformed my kitchen-dining room into a makeshift hirudotherapy studio.


My nerves were all over the place once I saw the critters writhing within the glass container. When a leech investigates its surroundings, something is unsettling about the manner it does it. I had to finally sign a legal waiver before starting my leeching, which did little to calm my anxiety. Finally, I was ready to begin my leeching.

My nerves settled as I was briefed on my new companion, the Hirudo medicinalis, sometimes known as the "healing leech."

The procedure began by attaching two leeches to each of my forearms, at which point the bloodletting began. It had led me to believe that there would be no discomfort, but this was not the case.

It felt like a needle was being pricked into my skin as their very sharp teeth, which have hundreds, made quick work of my skin. But in all honesty, that was all. The critters' natural anesthetic worked marvelously when it began to take effect.

How They Carry Out Their Duties:

How They Carry Out Their Duties:

The leeches gorged on the blood and other fluids I gave them for over an hour. They were incredibly efficient; the only loss was a very minute amount of clear lymph, which periodically dribbled down my arm. In addition, contrary to the widespread misconception, the leech is not put directly on the vein. It explained that doing so would result in severe damage that would call for vascular surgery.

The shimmering, pulsing bodies began to enlarge noticeably as they drank more and more of my blood. Their size increased by more than twice as much as before.

If anything, the most unpleasant aspect was the sensation of their undulating bodies pressing up on my flesh. It wasn't terrible, but it was definitely out of the ordinary and not in a positive sense.

When I suddenly remembered that there were leeches connected to me, I had to stifle the intense feeling of terror that surged in my chest. I realized that I had to recall that leeches were attached to me often.

Did Leech Therapy Work?


I had high hopes that the treatment would cure my eczema, but I was informed that it would take many sessions for the beneficial properties of the leeches to activate my immune system and start the healing process.

Though, you can't expect any treatment to solve an issue that has persisted throughout your life in a single session.

Nevertheless, as the time for the session drew to a conclusion, I became aware of shifts in the mental attitude I had been maintaining throughout. I had some lightheadedness, perhaps not surprising given the amount of blood lost. Additionally, I was in a relaxed state and on the verge of laughing out loud. I am delighted to be here still.

There is no question that some of this was related to the sense of relief that would soon remove the leeches from my skin; nonetheless, I wouldn't be shocked if the byproducts of having four sponges in my veins for an hour did something to alter my perspective on life.

As I write this paragraph, I'm still under the influence of said leeches, so perhaps I'm not the most extraordinary person to judge at this time.

While I was getting my blood sucked out, my thoughts strayed to other information about leeches I had learned from my studies. H. medicinalis was originally relatively widespread in the United Kingdom and Europe, but it is now considered relatively uncommon in its natural habitat.

At least partly attributable to the leech collectors of the 19th century, who made their living by scooping up leeches and selling them to various medical practitioners.


Many of the persons who collected leeches were elderly individuals who had no other means of making money; as a result, many used their legs as bait, placing themselves in a very precarious situation. Even though a leech only drinks a little blood during a feeding, the wounds they cause can continue to bleed for at least ten hours. Additionally, the risk of infection was significant.

So the next time you're feeling down about your job, spare a thought for those who used to live and work in the bogs and marshes of the Lake District in northern England. They collected leeches for a living.

The use of hirudotherapy is most definitely not cruelty-free.

After every session, the leeches have to be eliminated. Because they cannot be administered to another individual, nor can they be released back into their natural environment.

When creatures consumed all they could, they either crawled off of my skin on their own or needed to be coaxed off it gently. I am relieved to say that this did not cause any discomfort. After that, I watched as they eliminated the whole leeches one at a time in front of my eyes.


After the therapist poured a fluid that caused dehydration over them, the patients threw up their last meal and then died. It was pretty painful. The lifeless bodies of the leeches drifted aimlessly in the bloody water.

The session is documented in the gallery, which can be seen below. Please be aware that some of the following photographs depict blood, leeches that are dying, and me in a distressed state; therefore, it is recommended that viewers exercise caution when viewing them.

Should I Try It Once More?


In point of fact, no. The combination of chemicals that these slimy bloodsuckers can make fascinates me. Still, the amount of blood poured from me in the hours after the leeching was uncomfortable, disturbing, and extremely messy. I am interested in the fact that these bloodsuckers can manufacture these chemicals.

Even two to three hours after the leeches had finished their meal, a significant amount of blood continued to flow, and I began to worry about it. I decided to send the therapist a text (who was on her way back to treat more soccer players). She told me not to be concerned because some individuals bleed for up to 24 hours after an operation, adding that I am not one of those people.

I changed my bandage soaked in blood five times that day, and when I changed it for the final time — almost 10 hours after the treatment had concluded — blood was still freely pouring from one of the wounds. I was pretty concerned about the possibility of infection.

After all, the joyful lightheadedness I had felt before might be linked to the blood loss I had experienced earlier. There is an ongoing disagreement over the efficacy of leech therapy; nonetheless, I, for one, will not be submitting myself to it ever again.

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