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Leech therapy for ‘curing’ ills

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Umair Shafiq Khanday
Leech is a kind of bloodthirsty hermaphrodite. The genus Hirudo is known as Medicinal Leeches.
The behavior of blood-sucking by an external parasite like leeches can have different consequences because of piercing the surface of the hosts’ body for penetration. The leech bite causes direct connections between its body and the host’s body.
Nawroz-e-Aalam is celebrated on 21st March every year and this is marked as the beginning of Persian calendar. Besides planting trees Kashmiris celebrate it as the mark of new agricultural season with seeds being sown and farms made ready. But this is not only the reason for celebration. Kashmiri people wait for this day to undergo leech therapy.
Leech therapy is an old practice and it dates back to 200 BC. The practitioners believed that leech therapy cures many diseases like skin diseases, arthritis, chronic headaches, sinusitis etc.
This therapy is used because of the severe cold in Kashmir which leads to scars and other chronic diseases. Leech therapy cleans the impure blood. It helps in lowering uric acid in the body.
In Kashmir there are six hospitals that are using this technique to treat the patients suffering from chronic diseases.
Leech therapy is not only popular in J&K but is spreading all over the country. Ancient Arabs, Egyptians and Greeks have also used this therapy to treat diseases. Many people are now considering leech therapy as a better option for treatment rather than allopathic treatment. These secretions are also known as anticoagulants. This keeps blood flowing to wounds to help them heal. Currently, leech therapy is seeing a revival due to its simple and inexpensive means of preventing complications.
How does leech therapy work?
Medicinal leeches have three jaws with tiny rows of teeth. They pierce a person’s skin with their teeth and insert anticoagulants through their saliva. The leeches are then allowed to extract blood, for 20 to 45 minutes at a time, from the person undergoing treatment. This equates to a relatively small amount of blood, up to 15 milliliters per leech. Medicinal leeches most often come from Hungary or Sweden.
There are several situations in which leech therapy may be used. People who may benefit include those who risk limb amputation due to the side effects of diabetes, those who have been diagnosed with heart disease, and those who are undergoing cosmetic surgery in which they risk the loss of some of their soft tissue. The therapy has also been recommended to treat blood clots and varicose veins.
Diseases which leech therapy can treat :
1) Skin Diseases (eczema, seborrhea)
2) Eye diseases (inflammatory diseases of the eyelids, cornea, sclera, conjunctivitis.
3) ENT diseases (acute neuritis of the auditory nerve, ear noises chronic neuritis, acute rhinitis, acute sinusitis; forunkulez outer ear, acute laryngotracheitis, acute outer (middle) otitis media, chronic adhesive)
4) Respiratory diseases (influenza, acute respiratory infection, herpetic lesions of the nose, lips, and others.)
5) Diseases of the gastrointestinal tract (gastritis, stomach ulcers, colitis, varicose veins, post-surgical thrombosis, thrombophlebitis, endarteritis, haemorrhoids)
People with anemia, blood clotting conditions, or compromised arteries are not candidates for leech therapy. Children under the age of 18 years old and women who are pregnant are also usually advised to avoid it.
Medical applications for leech therapy
During a session, live leeches attach themselves to the target area and draw blood. They release the proteins and peptides that thin blood and prevent clotting. This improves circulation and prevents tissue death. The leeches leave behind small, Y-shaped wounds that usually heal without leaving a scar. Leeches are effective at increasing blood circulation and breaking up blood clots. It should be no surprise that they can be used to treat circulatory disorders and cardiovascular disease.
Chemicals derived from leech saliva have been made into pharmaceutical drugs that can treat: Hypertension, Varicose veins, Hemorrhoids and Arthritis.
Clinical trials suggest by trusted sources that leech therapy is an appropriate treatment for the common joint disease osteoarthritis. The anti-inflammatory and anesthetic properties in the leech’s saliva reduce pain and tenderness at the site of the affected joint.
Therapy was adopted for treating specific disease conditions of patients. Some of the indications in which leeches are used are in tumors, hemorrhoids, abscess and boils, skin disorders, ulcers, gout, diseases of the eye, headache, herpes zoster, thrombosis, and wounds. The saliva of the leech consists of anesthetic agents, anticoagulant, antiplatelet aggregation factor, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory substances, and gelatinous substances.
1) Arterial insufficiency
2) Previous exposure to leeches (risk of allergic reaction), 3) Immunosuppression.
4) Pregnancy/Lactation
Institutional guidelines may exist for the use of leeches. Leeches are applied from 2 to 4 times a day for up to a week. Feeding is complete in about 20 minutes, at which time the leech drops off. Removal of the leech may be hastened by applying solutions of salt, vinegar, a flame, or a local anesthetic. Leeches should not be forcibly removed. Bleeding from the attachment site usually continues for several hours.
(The author is a student of B.Sc Nursing at Pacific institute of medical sciences Udaipur)


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