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The Medicinal Uses of Leeches

Published: 11/04/2023
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Date of the last update: 11.04.2023

Medicinal leeches – also known as medical leeches – are invertebrates that are used in natural medicine across the world, due to their specific capabilities. Almost everyone has heard of leeches, but most of us don’t know what diseases they can actually be helpful for. Here you will learn about hirudotherapy and the ailments that can be treated with leeches.

Table of contents:

  1. A few words about medicinal leeches
  2. How does hirudotherapy work?
  3. Which diseases can be treated with leeches?
  4. Is treatment with medicinal leeches painful?
  5. Are there any side effects and contraindications to hirudotherapy?

You can read this article in 3 minutes.

A few words about medicinal leeches

Medicinal leeches (hirudo medicinailis) are invertebrates of the leech family, found mainly in territories from western and southern Europe to the Urals, and southern Mediterranean countries. Medicinal leeches are mainly found in small bodies of water. Although unknown to many people, ‘hirudotherapy’ – leech therapy – has been successfully used for centuries in almost every part of the world. In both scientific and popular literature you can find numerous accounts of the positive effects of medicinal leeches on the human body. Although hirudotherapy is not used in mainstream medicine, it has proven to be an effective treatment method for many patients.

How does hirudotherapy work?

Hirudotherapy is “a method of treatment by means of certain species of leeches, known to man since the beginning of civilization”, using leeches to treat a variety of conditions. During the procedure, leeches are carefully placed on the patient’s skin so that they can suck stagnant blood from the body’s blood vessels. Feeding on the patient’s blood, the leeches secrete a substance called hirudin through their saliva. Hirudin acts as a painkiller, while providing relief from many conditions. Hirudotherapy also helps remove toxins from the human body. Therapy with medicinal leeches can be an effective form of treatment for many ailments and is successfully used by many natural medicine practitioners.

Which diseases can be treated with leeches?

Medicinal leeches can:

  • Act as a painkiller, treating issues such as headaches,
  • Promote wound healing and support the treatment of skin diseases,
  • Treatment inflammatory conditions such as arthritis,
  • Support people with circulatory problems, hypertension, hypotension, and ischemic heart disease,
  • Support the treatment of hemorrhoids and varicose veins,
  • Support men with prostate problems and/or impotence, and
  • Be used in cosmetic treatments to smoothen the skin, and reduce wrinkles and cellulite.

Is treatment with medicinal leeches painful?

The suction of a medicinal leech to a patient’s skin is pain-free, as is the process of sucking blood. A medicinal leech can draw 10-15 ml of blood at a time, whilst secreting pain-killing and slightly anesthetic substances. After the procedure, the leech naturally ‘falls off’ the patient’s skin, and is discarded. Following the treatment, there can be some swelling and minor bleeding in the area where the leech has sucked blood, but this is completely natural and should not be a cause for concern.

Are there any side effects and contraindications to hirudotherapy?

Practiced since ancient times, hirudotherapy is a safe form of treatment with many benefits. However, it does have some possible side effects, including itchiness and redness in the areas where the leech is placed. In some cases, itching is a consequence of an allergic reaction to the anticoagulant released by the leech. To reduce this risk, hirudotherapy must be carried out following basic hygiene rules, reducing the risk of infection.

Hirudotherapy is used by people of almost any age, struggling with a variety of ailments. However, hirudotherapy is not discouraged for people suffering from hemophilia, people with any infections, as well as patients shortly after surgery, or those taking certain medications. If in doubt, it is important to consult a doctor.

Check out also: How to become a naturopath?

Among medical practitioners there are some supporters of this natural therapy, as well as others who argue that hirudotherapy is a neutral process for human health. In our opinion, it is worth taking into account that the medicinal leech received this name for a reason, and that its health-promoting properties have been practised for centuries on all continents, by people of many cultures and faiths.


  1., accessed 17.01.2023.
  2. Ząbkowska E., Piotrowska A. Hirudotherapy in selected dermatological applications. Aesthetic Cosmetology. 6, 2019, vol. 8, pp. 779-786.
  4. Hirudoterapia__na_co_pomaga_leczenie_pijawkamiWskazania_przeciwwskazania_przebieg_zabiegu_hirudeterapii, accessed January 17, 2023.
Naturally Balanced
The Naturally Balanced team includes experts in their field who create the best content for you, collaborating on their knowledge and experience.