Updated 09 April 2014

A quick look at leech therapy

Leech therapy actually has a name: hirudotherapy, and it is practised as much at the foothills of the Himalayas as it is in surgeries in New York.

Leeches have been used throughout history to treat a variety of conditions, including arthritis and inflammatory diseases such as allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disease, and asthma

In 2004 the FDA (Federal Drug Administration in the US) approved the use of leeches in modern medicine, though in the West they are most commonly used in plastic and reconstructive surgery.

One brilliant point in case is the use of leeches to re-attach a surfer's hand in Australia after he was mauled by a great white shark.  

According to Polish hirudotherapist, Dr Andrew Plucinski, who uses leech therapy extensively, leeches are used as an aid when a severed digit has to be surgically reattached. It's also useful in reconstructive flap surgery, such as during a skin graft.

The leeches are applied to an injury site – like a severed digit or skin flap – where they suck up the pooling blood and reduce tissue swelling, which promotes healing by allowing oxygenated blood to reach the injury point.  They also secrete an anticoagulant which prevents blood from forming clots and promotes the flow of new, oxygenated blood.

In many parts of India, Russia and Poland hirudotherapy is regarded as a great "cure" for those with vascular (arterial and venous diseases), heart (ischemic diseases and hypertension), and lung problems (bronchitis and bronchial asthma). 

Read: 5 more strange natural therapies

Leech therapy today – every year in Kashmir

In the image below a leech therapy practitioner blows hot air from his mouth on a leech as he administers leech therapy to a patient in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian administered Kashmir, India.

Nowruz, the beginning of the year in the Persian calendar, has a different significance in Indian administered Kashmir. On this day, thousands of patients suffering from various skin ailments gather at Hazratbal, the outskirts of Srinagar to receive a spot of leech treatment.

In this centuries-old alternative treatment, practitioners use leeches to suck impure blood from the affected patient.

Leech treatment
is one of the oldest skin therapies in the valley and has been used to treat many thousands of patients.

Though overshadowed by more conventional treatments over the years, people from various parts of Kashmir travel to the Hazratbal market every Nowruz to receive the therapy. 

(Photo by Yawar Nazir/Getty Images)

Children receive leech therapy in Kashmir 

Leech therapy for a diabetic amputee

Iranian nurse Amir-Reza Safaei puts a leech on the amputated leg of Hassan Soroor, who lost his leg to diabetes, during "Leech Therapy" at a traditional medical clinic in Tehran.


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Leeches at work, Shutterstock

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