Cardiovascular Disease and Leech Therapy

Since the early days of the 20th century, people have been using leeches to treat cardiovascular diseases because of the Hirudin enzyme in the leeches saliva, a substance which has systemic anticoagulative effects. A physician would usually prescribe the use of leeches when a person suffered a stroke or heart attack.  Also, Hirudin stimulates segmental reflex mechanisms and this contributes to the treatment of cardiovascular diseases.

Hirudin and Drugs

It was only when anticoagulants such as aspirin and heparin were invented that the use of leeches declined. The effects of aspirin which are the inhibition of platelet aggregation and for the dissolving of thrombus or embolus, or thrombolysis, were found to be much more effective in treating cardiovascular conditions. However, scientists began to investigate further uses of Hirudin for cardiovascular conditions and they found Recombinant Hirudin was useful for Myocardial Infarctions (MI) and unlike heparin; hirudin was actually a direct thrombin inhibitor which did not need to have a cofactor like antithrombin III. Also, hirudin could inactivate fibrin-bound thrombins. However, the effects of the drugs derived from hirudin were much too potent and caused quite massive hemorrhagic adverse effects. Because of this, hirudin was not considered a good primary treatment for myocardial infarction; however, they found that it was a good treatment for Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia Type 2.

 

Natural Leech Therapy

 Leeches shown during treatment of varied conditions

Leeches shown during treatment
of varied conditions

Natural leech therapy that is, the actual application of live leeches on the skin, was believed to have been an effective treatment for thrombosis and other coronary syndromes and Leeches have also been used to treat hypertension. Because leeches suck a hosts blood and its hirudin has anticoagulation, it may cause hypovolemic hemodilution which are two of the things that will reduce the pressure of the blood flow on the walls of the blood vessels, thus leading to reduction in blood pressure. However, it should be noted that since there are much more effective treatments for the reduction of blood pressure, such as anti-hypertensive drugs, leech therapy is now mostly considered as an adjuvant therapy rather than an actual first-line treatment.

 

Application of Leech Therapy

 Leeches shown during treatment of varied conditions

Leeches shown during treatment
of varied conditions

Aside from those mentioned above, there are many conditions where leech therapy is considered useful. Leech therapy is sometimes used for Coronary Heart disease, where atheromatous plaques accumulate within the walls of the arteries that provide the blood supply for the myocardium.

It is also used for ischemic heart disease, where the blood supply to the heart is reduced. For this condition, leeches are applied to specific areas. During the first session, only about two to three leeches are used in each area, but as the treatment progresses, as many as 12 leeches can be used. During the first week, leech therapy can be applied every day if possible, leading to three times a week, over a course of approximately three to four weeks, depending on the individual.

For cardiovascular diseases, a minimum of three to four leeches can be applied to each specific area during the first session. Thereafter, up to 14 leeches can be applied.  This treatment is usually applied three times a week for a total of ten applications, depending on the severity of the disease. 

For Valvular heart diseases, again, leeches are placed in specific areas twice a week. Treatment is usually applied for a minimum of twelve sessions.

 Blood expelled after different treatments

Blood expelled after different treatments

Leech therapy is effective against these diseases, including hypertension because of its ability to relieve the stagnation of the blood in the vessels. When a leech is applied over a certain area, the blood flow to that area will increase, leading to better circulation. In fact, there are several cases where the patient's overall wellbeing is improved after leech therapy and rejuvenation takes place.