Treating Vascular Diseases with Leech Therapy

One of the biggest killer diseases in our society today are vascular diseases. These can be hardening of the arteries or the veins, compromised blood flow due to narrowing of the vessels, formation of fatty plaques or deposits that impede normal blood flow and thickening of the vessels, just to name a few. Vascular disease can be caused by many factors, some of which are hypertension, the foods that we eat, obesity, our lifestyle, such as smoking and drinking, and inactivity. In the long run, these can lead to problems of the heart, the brain, and extremities.

Now, there are many pharmacological treatments that can reduce the progression of vascular diseases, but prolonged use of medicines can lead to side effects including organ complications. People who wish to try a different route for the treatment of vascular disease often choose Hirudotherapy or leech therapy.

The Leech Therapeutic Saliva

Leeches shown during treatment of varied conditions

Leeches shown during treatment of
varied conditions

It is in the leeches saliva that has been known to cure or prevent diseases. Their saliva has over 100 bioactive substances that are very beneficial. One such component is hirudin, which acts as an anticoagulation agent. Calin is another component that also inhibits blood coagulation. A component that dissolves fibrin clots as well as inhibits the formation of thrombus is the destabilase. Leech saliva also contains a Factor Xa inhibitor, and this compound restrains the coagulating effect of the coagulation Factor Xa. It also has hyaluronidase that enhances the viscosity of the interstitial fluid. For vasodilating effect, it has acetylcholine and histamine-like substances as well as carboxypeptidase A inhibitors. These three can increase blood flow by dilating constricted vessels. These are just some of the very useful components in leech saliva.

Now, how do these various components work to treat patients with vascular problems?


Effects of Leech Therapy to Patients with Vascular Diseases

Leeches shown during treatment of varied conditions

Leeches shown during treatment
of varied conditions

Those mentioned above all work together to decrease the viscosity of the blood, making its consistency thinner so as to promote better blood flow. Blood that has a thick consistency makes it prone to clot formation as well as increases the blood pressure of an individual. These clots can travel to different parts of the body and block a vessel, which could then cause a stroke or heart attack. Thick blood poses a risk that the distal extremities, especially the tips of the fingers and toes, will not receive adequate oxygenated blood and the nutrients they need. Therefore, the anticoagulation component in leeches saliva is vital as it naturally makes the blood thinner and works to inhibit platelet coagulation.

As stated above, the saliva's vasodilating components dilate or widen the blood vessels, thereby promoting a better blood flow. With all these components working together, there will be a noticeable improvement in the vascular status of the patient.

Procedures for Leech Therapy

Before placing leeches on the skin, they are cleansed with clean water. Treatment sites vary, depending upon the affected part where the vascular problems are more prominent. For example, patients with cardiovascular disease undergo leech therapy on different areas of their body than, lets say, patients with peripheral vascular disease. In each case leeches will promote better blood flow to the region. Again, depending on individual cases, approximately each area requires between 7 to 14 leeches each consultation, but it still depends on the severity of the case. After the leeches are placed and have fastened themselves onto the skin, they are usually left until they automatically disengage themselves from the patient. When this happens, it means they are full and each leech can suck about 15 to 20 ml.

Once treatment is complete, the area is cleaned and bandaged but may continue bleeding due to the anti-clotting factor in the leeches saliva.

After five days of continuous leech therapy, a patient will feel improvement in their condition.

Word of Caution

Leeches are never placed on major veins like the jugular vein or the femoral vein. Likewise, they are not placed on the breasts, eyelids or delicate structures of the body.