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What is Hirudotherapy?

Hirudotherapy is one of the oldest treatment methods in medicine, which ensures that nearly 100 various enzymes are delivered to the human tissue by sticking the medical leech to the necessary areas in the human body.

In ancient Indian mythology, Dhanvantari, the four-armed goddess of health, was depicted holding a leech in one hand. However, leech therapy was explained in detail in Sushruta Samhita, which was written by the Indian physician Sushruta in the 6th century BC for the first time in written form. This information later reached the lands of ancient Greece and spread to Anatolia and Europe. The famous Roman physician Galen taught hirudotherapy to his students in his own schools, and he pioneered the widespread use of this treatment in European countries until the 19th century. In the period of the French physician Broussais, as a result of the excessive use of leeches (vampirism period) and the development of the industry and the pollution of the living environment, the leeches began to become extinct, and their import from abroad began.


In the 1st century, Ibn Sina gave detailed information about leech therapy in his book El Kanun fi’t Tıbb, and this treatment had an important place in the Ottoman period. In the 19th century, this treatment method was abandoned and started to be forgotten, but in 1884, the English physiologist John B. Haycraft was remembered again when he found that the leech secretion had blood-thinning properties, and in 1904 he named this enzyme Hirudin. With the establishment of leech research centers and farms in other European countries, especially in Russia, at the beginning of the last century, and with the acceleration of scientific studies on hirudotherapy in the last 50-60 years, the anatomy, physiology and chemical structure of the secretions of the medical leech began to be better understood.

In 2004, with the application of the French company Ricarimpex, the FDA approved the use of hirudotherapy in certain diseases for the first time. At the same time, medical leeches are under protection with the CITES (International Agreement on the Sale of Endangered Lives) contract against extinction.

Although Turkey meets 2/3 of leech exports worldwide, its value in the field of health has only just begun to be understood. With the preparation of the Traditional and Complementary Medicine Regulation of the Ministry of Health, hirudotherapy began to be taught to physicians in universities and patients had the opportunity to be treated with local leeches without going abroad.

Medicinal leeches, popularly known as ‘suckers of dirty blood’, actually secrete more than 100 enzymes from the salivary gland to the human body in return for the blood they suck (blood thinner and anticoagulant, vasodilator, pain reliever, immune booster, neurotrophic (revitalizing the nerves), against inflammation in the body) and Thanks to these secretions, patients find healing. These enzymes are almost exhausted when the leech is saturated by sucking as much blood as it can take, and it takes months to re-form. Therefore, re-use in a short time will not be therapeutic and pose a threat to human health as it will carry a blood-borne disease.

In other words, the leech is disposable and the person applying the treatment must be a physician who has received hirudotherapy training. Because of the misconceptions among the people (the leech finds the sick area on its own, the thought of bleeding after the leech falls, it causes vomiting and reuse, it is used by someone else, the application of large numbers of leeches at one time, etc.) can be very damaged. Therefore, our patients should definitely consult a trained doctor.

Some of the nearly 100 enzymes (hirudin, calin, eglin, bdellin, destabilase, hyaluronidase, etc.) that the leech releases into the body during blood sucking have antiaggregant, anticoagulant, antithrombotic, vasodilator, anti-inflammatory, local anesthetic, antibacterial, immunomodulatory, neurotropic and analgesic effects. In addition, acupuncture points are also stimulated from the place where the leech sticks, and it is thought that the sound wave it emits has a bioresonance wave effect.

Leech therapy is not applied to those who use severe anemia, hemophilia, anticoagulants, have an active hemorrhagic focus before the surgical procedure, have severe allergies and pregnant women, breast-feeding, severe psychiatric patients who will not comply with the treatment, immunosuppressive patients, cirrhosis, HIV virus carriers, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The biggest problems after hirudotherapy are long-lasting hemorrhage at the wound site and local allergic reaction. Therefore, the application should be made by trained physicians and health personnel.


Diseases in which Hirudotherapy is Most Commonly Used

  • In arthritis-related joint diseases,
  • For elbow pain known as tennis elbow,
  • In orthopedic disorders that cause movement restrictions,
    blood circulation disorder,
  • Brain nervous system disorders (MS, migraine etc.),
  • Some eye diseases involving the retina,
  • Meniere’s disease,
  • Varicose veins and hemorrhoids
  • It is also used to reduce pain due to varicose diseases in the legs