Leeching in the History: A Review

Leeching in the History: A Review

By Younis Munshi, Irfat Ara, Huma Rafique and Zahoor Ahmad

Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences, Vol. 11:13 (2008)

Abstract: Leeching has enjoyed a good reputation in the past where it had been used in various ailments from fevers to flatulence. The present day scientists have limited its role and the leeching nowadays is being used only in microsurgeries to relieve the venous congestion. This study was designed to explore the possibility of revival of the leech therapy (leeching) which is still being used traditionally as therapeutic agent in various ailments. Leeching is not the outcome of the medieval period but has been in use during the times when there was no concept of the disease and medicament. The earliest clearly documented record of leeches being used for remedial purpose appears in a painting in an Egyptian Tomb of around 1500 BC. The journey of the leech therapy reached its zenith in 17th and 18th century AD in Europe while as during the Arab era the leeches were used medicinally but only for the bloodletting. During the 17th and 18th century AD there was shortage of leeches in certain European countries due to its rigorous use. During early 20th century AD when germ theory was put forward and medical fraternity believed that every disease has its origin from germs and the era of antibacterial therapy gained a pace, the leech therapy was considered the myth of the past. It was in 1970`s that the leech therapy was revived by only limited to the microsurgeries to relieve venous congestions. During the 21st century there were certain studies when the leeches were tried in certain ailments like arthritis etc. and the Food and Drug Authority of USA (FDA) gave permission for sale and use of leeches in USA but limited its use in microsurgeries and plastic surgeries only. The aim of this study was to explore different diseases where the role of leech therapy can be seen and clinical trials can be started in this direction. Although the researchers in Regional Research Institute of Unani Medicine, Srinagar, Kashmir, India working under the aegis of Central Council for Research in Unani Medicine started the clinical trials for leech therapy in frost bite way back in 1999, but there are certain unexplored areas where leech therapy can prove beneficial and need is to take up the studies on other disease on larger sample size.

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