Leech Therapy or Hirudotherapy in Ayurveda

Leech therapy, also known as hirudotherapy, has been utilized in Ayurveda practices for centuries to treat various ailments, ranging from skin diseases to joint pain. This ancient form of therapy is regaining popularity in modern times.

Leeches are employed as a method of blood purification therapy called Raktamokshana Jaluka Charana, which involves removing contaminated blood from the affected area of the body. When performed under professional supervision and with proper cleanliness and hygiene, leech therapy can be an effective treatment option for a variety of illnesses and issues. It is a sophisticated method of Ayurvedic treatment.

What is Leech Therapy or hirudotherapy in Ayurveda?

Definition of Leech Therapy

Leech therapy, or hirudotherapy, is a medical treatment that involves the use of leeches. The therapy consists of directly applying medicinal leeches to the area requiring treatment. The healing properties of leeches have been recognized for centuries, and they were used during medieval times to treat infections before the discovery of antibiotics.

Leechs are Hematophagous animals, known for feeding on the blood of their prey, possess unique abilities to overcome blood clotting. One such example is the leech, an invertebrate with a highly-developed mechanism to prevent blood clotting. Leeches have fascinated therapists for centuries, who have utilized leech therapy for various diseases. The significance of leeches as a complementary source of medical therapy for a wide range of ailments, including cardiovascular diseases, plastic surgery, cancer, diabetes mellitus, and infectious disorder

Historical Review of Leeching

  • The usage of leeches in clinical therapy dates back thousands of years.
  • Ancient civilizations, including the Egyptians and Greeks, employed leeches for various medical purposes.
  • The humor concept of Galen influenced the widespread use of leeches during the Christian era.
  • Leech therapy was documented in Islamic literature and was recommended for skin diseases and other conditions.
  • In the Middle Ages, leeches were prescribed for a wide range of disorders.
  • Leech therapy experienced a decline in the early 20th century but resurfaced with new applications in modern medicine.

How Does Leech Therapy Work?

The primary mechanism of action in leech therapy is the secretion of a complex mixture of biologically active substances from the leech’s salivary glands during the biting process. These active substances are then injected into the host. Medicinal leeches have three jaws with tiny rows of teeth, which they use to pierce the skin and inject anticoagulants through their saliva. This process helps improve blood flow to areas where it may be slowed or stopped, preventing tissue death. One key component of leech saliva, hirudin, has been known for its unique anticoagulant properties since the 19th century. Hirudin works by binding to thrombin, an enzyme responsible for blood clotting, thereby preventing clot formation and enhancing blood flow.

Benefits of leech or hirudin therapy

The effectiveness of leech therapy is still debated in modern medicine, proponents claim several potential benefits. Few of them are:

  1. Treats skin disorders – Leech therapy has been suggested as a treatment for skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema. The saliva of leeches contains various bioactive substances that may have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, which could potentially alleviate symptoms associated with these skin disorders.
  2. Increases the glow of the skin – The application of leeches is believed to improve blood circulation and remove toxins from the body. Enhanced blood flow and removal of impurities may contribute to healthier-looking skin with a natural glow.
  3. Blood vitiated with pitta dosha – In Ayurvedic medicine, pitta dosha refers to one of the three fundamental energies that govern physiological and psychological functions. It is believed that leech therapy can help balance the pitta dosha by purifying the blood and removing excess heat or toxins associated with this dosha.
  4. Diabetic ulcers – Leech therapy has been explored as a potential treatment for diabetic ulcers. The leeches’ saliva contains an enzyme called hirudin, which acts as a natural anticoagulant. This anticoagulant effect may help improve blood circulation and promote wound healing in diabetic ulcers.
  5. Varicose veins – Varicose veins are swollen and twisted veins that often occur in the legs. Leech therapy is thought to help by reducing blood congestion and improving circulation in the affected veins.
  6. Vatarakta (Gout) – Vatarakta, a condition in Ayurvedic medicine resembling gout, is believed to be caused by the accumulation of toxins and imbalances in the body. Leech therapy is claimed to assist in eliminating toxins and restoring balance, potentially providing relief from symptoms associated with vatarakta.
  7. Sciatica, lumbar spondylosis, osteoarthritis – These conditions involve pain and inflammation in the joints, spine, or back. Proponents of leech therapy suggest that the anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties of leech saliva could help alleviate symptoms and improve mobility in these conditions.
  8. Abscess – An abscess is a collection of pus that forms within tissues. Leech therapy may be considered as a complementary treatment to promote drainage and reduce inflammation in abscesses.
  9. Herpes – Leech therapy has been suggested as a potential treatment for herpes infections. Some compounds found in leech saliva have antiviral properties, which might help combat the herpes virus. However, further research is needed to establish its effectiveness.
  10. Haemorrhoids – Haemorrhoids, also known as piles, are swollen veins in the rectal area. The application of leeches is believed to improve blood circulation, reduce congestion, and relieve symptoms associated with haemorrhoids.
  11. Neck and eye diseases – Leech therapy has been proposed as a treatment for certain neck and eye conditions, although specific examples are not provided. It is possible that proponents believe the improved blood circulation and anti-inflammatory effects of leech therapy may have potential benefits for these conditions.
  12. Joint pain, joint stiffness – Leech therapy is believed to have analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects, which may provide relief from joint pain and stiffness associated with conditions such as arthritis or joint inflammation.
  13. Various types of infections – The saliva of leeches contains antimicrobial substances that could potentially help combat certain types of infections. However, the specific infections mentioned are not specified, so it is difficult to provide further details.

Common Diseases Treated with Leech Therapy

In recent years, there has been renewed interest in leech therapy as a safe and effective treatment for various medical conditions, including arthritis, migraines, and skin grafting. However, it is important to note that leech therapy is still considered an alternative treatment option, and further research is needed to fully understand its therapeutic potential and best practices for its use. If considering leech therapy for a medical condition, it is crucial to consult with a qualified healthcare provider to determine if it is a viable treatment option for individual needs.

Leech therapy is a procedure that involves using live leeches to suck blood from a person’s skin. Leeches secrete substances in their saliva that have various therapeutic effects, such as preventing blood clotting, reducing inflammation, relieving pain, and fighting infections1. Leech therapy can be used to treat a number of diseases, such as

Leeching for Cardiovascular Diseases:

  • Leech therapy has emerged as an alternative remedy for vascular disorders.
  • Medicinal leech saliva improves blood flow and reduces connective tissue hyperalgesia.
  • Clinical studies have shown positive outcomes in patients with thrombophlebitis and phlebitis.
  • Hirudin, a thrombin inhibitor found in leech saliva, is effective in reducing blood hypercoagulability.
  • Hirudin has advantages over traditional anticoagulants, making it a preferred choice for certain patients.

Reconstructive and Microsurgery:

  • Leeching has been used in microsurgery to alleviate venous congestion and improve blood flow.
  • The active blood drainage and anticoagulants in leech saliva help prevent thrombus formation.
  • Positive outcomes have been reported in scalp avulsion, skin flaps, amputated ears, and replantation surgeries.
  • Leech therapy, along with other surgical techniques, enhances the success of penile replantation.
  • However, international protocols and controlled studies on leech therapy are lacking.

Leeching and Cancer Metastasis:

  • Studies have explored leech saliva and extracts as potential antimetastatic agents.
  • Various anticoagulants, protease inhibitors, and components in leech saliva may have antimetastatic properties.
  • Salivary gland extracts and proteins from different leech species have shown inhibitory effects on tumor cell colonization.
  • Leeching has exhibited potential in suppressing metastasis of melanoma, breast cancer, lung cancer, and prostate cancer.

Leeching and Diabetes Mellitus:

  • Leech therapy has not been studied as an antihyperglycemic treatment for diabetes.
  • However, leech application has been traditionally used to treat complications associated with diabetes.
  • Cardiovascular complications of diabetes, such as atherosclerosis, can potentially benefit from the anticoagulant properties of leech saliva

Leech therapy or hirudotherapy for wounds

Leech therapy, also known as hirudotherapy, is a form of treatment that utilizes medicinal leeches to promote wound healing. Although leeches have been historically used for bloodletting, modern medicine has rediscovered their benefits and now employs them in areas such as microsurgery, plastic and reconstructive surgery, cardiovascular disease, and dermatology.

The therapy involves applying leeches to the wound area, where they use their blood-sucking action to enhance circulation, improve blood flow, and expedite the healing process. Leeches secrete several beneficial chemical compounds that contribute to their therapeutic effects. These compounds include a local anesthetic, which can help alleviate pain, as well as an anticoagulant that thins the blood, increases blood flow, and prevents clotting. Leech saliva also contains a substance that reduces swelling and an antibiotic that aids in wound healing by eliminating harmful bacteria.

In modern medical practice, leeches used for therapy are specifically bred under sterile conditions at leech farms to ensure safety and minimize the risk of infections. Leech therapy is particularly beneficial in plastic surgery, where it can be employed to relieve congestion and improve blood supply following tissue transfer or reattachment procedures. By draining small amounts of blood, leeches can help maintain blood flow in the reconstructed area, reducing the risk of tissue loss.

During the leech therapy process, the wound is assessed to determine if the treatment would be beneficial. The healthcare provider will discuss the procedure, risks, and potential complications with the patient, and verbal consent will be obtained. Although leech therapy is generally safe, there are some possible complications to consider. These include local infection around the wound site, prolonged bleeding that may require blood transfusion if hemoglobin levels drop significantly, and potential allergies to the leeches.

A doctor or nurse will apply the leeches to the wound area, and a staff member may accompany the patient during this time if needed. If preferred, the area can be covered to avoid direct visibility of the leeches. Each treatment session typically lasts between 30 to 60 minutes. Bleeding continues when the leeches are removed, ensuring continuous blood flow without congestion. Multiple leech applications throughout the day may be necessary to maintain the desired effect.

To reduce the risk of infection, patients undergoing leech therapy may be prescribed a course of oral antibiotics. While the provided information suggests that leech therapy is effective in reducing pain, improving perfusion, and promoting wound healing, it is important to note that the study mentioned has a small sample size. Further robust trials are needed to establish the significance and effectiveness of leech therapy in wound healing.

Before and after pictures of wound treatment with leech Therapy

Non-healing wound before leech therapy
Wound on leg before treated with leech therapy
Wound under leech therapy
Healed wound after multiple sitting under leech therapy

In conclusion, leech therapy is a modern application of an ancient practice that utilizes medicinal leeches to enhance wound healing. With their beneficial chemical compounds and blood-sucking action, leeches can improve circulation, reduce swelling, and aid in the healing process. When performed under professional supervision and with sterile leeches, leech therapy can be a safe and effective treatment option in certain medical contexts, particularly in plastic and reconstructive surgery.

Safety Considerations in Leech Therapy

While leech therapy can be generally safe, it may carry certain risks and side effects, such as bleeding or infection. Leech therapy is not suitable for everyone. People with anemia, blood clotting conditions, or compromised arteries should avoid it. Children under 18 years old and pregnant women are also usually advised to avoid it. Leech therapy may have some side effects, such as bleeding, infection, allergic reaction, or anemia.

It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional before considering leech therapy and to ensure that the skin is properly cleaned before and after the therapy to minimize the risk of infection.

Sterility and Safety of Leeches Used in Hirudin Therapy

The leeches used in hirudin therapy are typically sterile and undergo rigorous testing to ensure they are free from diseases.

Additionally, disposable equipment and applications are often used to further minimize the risk of infections from bacteria or viruses.

It is crucial to seek out well-regulated healthcare providers and practitioners when considering hirudin therapy to ensure the safety of the treatment.

Hirudin Therapy Process

Hirudin therapy, also known as leech therapy or hirudotherapy, is a medical treatment that employs leeches to treat various conditions. With a history spanning thousands of years, leeches are still widely used today in many parts of the world for their therapeutic benefits. Hirudin therapy has shown efficacy in treating conditions such as arthritis, varicose veins, thrombosis, and even certain types of cancer. The therapy works by releasing hirudin, a substance that prevents blood clotting and improves blood flow, into the bloodstream. Generally, hirudin therapy is safe and well-tolerated, with minimal side effects. However, it should be performed by trained professionals experienced in the use of leeches for medical purposes. Consultation with a healthcare provider is essential to determine the suitability of hirudin therapy for individual circumstances.


While the idea of using leeches for medicinal purposes may initially seem strange or archaic, hirudin therapy has proven to have numerous medical benefits in modern medicine. From treating cardiovascular disorders to reducing the risk of thrombosis, leeches have played a significant role in medical science throughout history. As we continue to explore new therapies and treatments, it is crucial to maintain an open mind and consider all possibilities, even those with ancient roots.

Mr.Viju V
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