The word “Hirudotherapy” comes from Hirudo Medicinalis, the European medicinal leech.
Along with bloodletting and touching for the ‘King’s Evil’, to most of us treatment with leeches conjures an image of the Chaucerian ‘Doctor of Physic’. However, it may come as a surprise to hear that whilst they are not a treatment we encounter regularly, medicinal leeches have never entirely left the medical treatment arsenal.
Leeches are effective at increasing blood circulation and breaking up blood clots. As such, they can be used to treat circulatory disorders and cardiovascular disease. Also chemicals derived from leech saliva have been used by the pharmaceutical industry to develop anti-hypertensive drugs to treat high blood pressure.
But, the suggestion that leeches could help treat CRPS is likely to raise more than a few eyebrows!
However, my attention was caught by a short abstract in Science Direct referring to an article published in the Journal of Integrative Medicine, entitled “Beneficial effects of hirudotherapy in a chronic case of complex regional pain syndrome”. In summary, the authors say:
“We report about hirudotherapy in a patient with chronic complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) in the right hand. CRPS is a multifactorial disease associated with disabling pain as well as sensory and motor deficits. The optimal therapeutic management is based on personalized multimodal treatment approaches; however, hirudotherapy has not been described in the available literature. To date, we have completed five medicinal leech treatments. Altogether, hirudotherapy led to rapid and substantial relief of symptoms, especially with respect to pain intensity ratings and skin temperature asymmetries. In addition, the patient’s active and passive agility of the affected limb improved obviously.”
On the face of it, that sounds incredible. However, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that this is a study involving just one patient. Whether this will spark interest in running a wider scale clinical trial remains to be seen.