The history of hirudotherapy — the treatment by means of medicinal leeches

It is very difficult to write about the history and past events that have happened thousands of years ago, because one should take into account all the factors that are not comprehended by the modern person. Take, for example, the factor of society development. Europe is the continent which has the highest level of literacy among its citizens. Just a few centuries ago the majority of the population in Europe was illiterate, and even the very notion of literacy have passed a long-term development. The current meaning is different from its original meaning, which had been used, for example, since the 8th century BC in ancient Rome. And these factors are many.

That is why, when I write about history I have to explain what this concept means in general in this context. My personal opinion is that still no one knows the real history of hirudotherapy that goes back to the ancient ages in antiquity, medieval history and early modern times, and its description is therefore a partial short list of publicly available information, obtained from preserved and published investigations and resources.

How to overcome fear of the medicinal leech

Quite often in my practice I face the presence of a certain sense of fear and resistance, or aversion to the medicinal leech, especially in women. This may happen due to the fact that the leech produces liquid in the form of mucus, and it is often perceived as something disgusting and slimy. That’s why the leech is often considered as a dirty and ugly worm. An important role here is played by experience and information. And, of course, prejudice. People who become interested in hirudotherapy have too little experience and they are very often full of prejudice. They do not want to take the medicinal leech with their hands, because they are afraid that it will bite them. They do not know how it will react to them. Worms, snakes, and insects rarely become pets, and are especially feared by women.

First Aid, or let us start with something really important

Very rarely we face cases when a patient develops an allergy after using the medicinal leeches. An allergic reaction in its essence is a confused reaction of the body, since the immune system is fighting against substances that do not actually pose a threat to our body, and, therefore, they are not really the aggressors like the immune system incorrectly identified them. These substances are commonly called allergens. An allergic reaction in hirudotherapy, which is the medicinal leech therapy, is usually caused by the action of those substances contained in the saliva produced after the leech bites into the body. An allergic reaction can be manifested at different levels. One can hardly notice it, for example, there are such reactions as mild redness, itching on the spot of the leech application, or the manifesting health condition aggravation, like nausea, dizziness, fever, significant swelling, or other symptoms. In some cases this kind of a reaction may reach the level of anaphylactic shock. Professional literature describes it as a one occurring once in ten thousand cases.

Anaphylactic shock is life-threatening. It is a hard and fast emerging allergic reaction. The main complications comprise sudden death, caused by the lack of blood circulation or respiration.
Despite the fact the majority of hirudotherapy practitioners have never faced a severe allergic reaction in the patient, this phenomenon may indeed occur. I have already had such an experience, thus I would like to attract your attention to the first aid treatment and getting ready for it. It is important to know the first aid treatment principles before you decide to try the medicinal leech application for you or someone else. Thus, before you apply the medicinal leech, it is advisable to know that even one small bite of the leech may cause very severe allergic reactions. If you’re going to apply the leech on your body, upon the occurrence of an allergic reaction you’re facing the threat of death, because you will not be able to help yourself. The first important rule is: If you going to apply the medicinal leech for the first time, there should always be another person as your assistant. This person should be well instructed on how to provide you with the first aid in case anaphylaxis comes after the application.