English 4 MIN READ 204 VIEWS May 22, 2024

What is Leech Therapy, and How Does It Work?

Written By HealthKart
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Aarti Nehra

Although it might sound bizarre, leeches have been an important part of medical history, dating back to the Ancient Egyptians, Indians, Arabs, and Greeks. Therapy with leeches has been used repeatedly to treat various kinds of issues, such as skin diseases, dental issues, nervous system issues, infections, and inflammation. 

While medical science has come a long way since ancient times, leech therapy is still popular, mainly with plastic surgery and other microsurgeries. Leech therapy benefits us in a lot of ways, and this article is meant to provide more insight into this peculiar yet effective form of therapy.

How Leech Therapy Works?

Leeches are equipped with rows of tiny and sharp teeth in their three jaws, which, when piercing the skin, inject anticoagulants, proteins, and peptides into the body through their saliva. Depending on the treatment as well as the requirements of the patient, the leeches can be left on the body for up to 20 to 45 minutes at a time. The medicinal leeches used for these kinds of therapies are usually sourced from Hungary or Sweden. Questions may arise surrounding the method, such as how it works or whether leech therapy is painful. Leech therapies do not cause much pain and only leave a small, Y-shaped mark that heals at a normal rate.

The medical practitioner usually first identifies the areas of the skin where the leeches will be applied. Next, they simply ensure that the areas are well-sanitized and clean to maintain hygiene. The leeches are then directly applied to the skin, where they start sucking up blood (15 millilitres per leech). The leeches are then safely removed either on their own as they drop off from your skin, or by the medical practitioner.

Leech Therapy and Cosmetic Usage

Leeches are a great way to preserve soft tissue and have also been actively used to speed up the overall healing process after reconstructive surgeries. Leech therapy benefits are observed after reconstruction surgeries of the nose, forehead, breast, cheek, fingers, and toes. It also helps with any blood clotting that may occur during the healing process and ensures that there are no complications.

Medical Applications of Leeches

Proteins and peptides are released from the leeches’ saliva once they bite onto the skin, which helps with thinning the blood and preventing clots. They’re also meant to improve the circulation of the blood and prevent any kind of tissue death. Leeches are also used in making various kinds of pharmaceutical drugs for different kinds of conditions and diseases, such as:

  1. Hypertension
  2. Varicose veins
  3. Hemorrhoids
  4. Skin problems like acne and eczema
  5. Arthritis

Leech therapy before and after effects are significant and this therapy has also been actively used to treat various other serious problems, some of which have been detailed below for your reference:

  1. Heart problems

Various heart problems cause poor blood circulation in our body as well as different forms of inflammation. The medicinal chemicals found in leech’s saliva have been proven to be helpful to improve circulation as well as to reduce inflammation. Leech therapy, in recent years, has become a more accepted method of treatment for heart-related issues in patients worldwide.

  1. Cancer

The platelet inhibitors and special enzymes present in a leech’s saliva are the reason this form of therapy is an option to treat cancer. Research and trials have been done, and while it does not work for certain types of blood cancers, it has also been shown to have a significant effect on lung cancer. Animal testing has provided proof that if the saliva from leeches is injected directly, it helps prevent cancer cells from colonising and spreading.

3. Diabetes

Diabetes is a disease that has affected a lot of people worldwide and can cause a lot of problems as it progresses. One of these issues is causing blood vessel diseases, which in turn can affect the circulation of blood to extremities such as hands, legs, feet, fingers, and toes. There is something present in the leech’s saliva called a hirudin substance that can help with blood clotting. People who are affected by diabetes also have a much thicker consistency of blood, and this component can help in relieving pressure from the heart. Due to the thicker consistency, your heart has to work in overdrive to keep the blood pumping, and hirudin can help thin out this consistency.


Leech therapy may sound unconventional but it has been a method of treating various conditions worldwide for ages. Their saliva holds a lot of beneficial medicinal properties that can help treat various skin conditions, help regulate blood circulation, and prevent clotting through the thinning of our blood. The only thing to keep in mind while opting for such therapies is to go to a licensed practitioner who knows how to deal with leeches. While there are minimal risks to it, leech therapy can still, on rare occasions, cause bacterial infections and some people may even be allergic to their saliva.

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