Leeches have been used successfully to treat varicose veins.
New Scientist reports that doctors in India have used the blood-sucking leeches to cure the leg ulcers and swelling that result from the condition.
The researchers said that the treatment works because blood in veins has had the oxygen removed. Leeches prefer this venous blood to the oxygen-rich blood carried in arteries.
Varicose veins are veins that have been stretched and grow out of proportion to the blood they have to carry.
The condition, which affects about two-thirds of adults in the UK, occurs when valves in the veins malfunction.
Conventional treatment involves surgery to remove the problematic vein or else injections of a substance that causes the vein to scar and close. Research in the US recently showed that a chemical derived from the creatures could help reduce deaths and heart attacks in people suffering coronary heart disease.
Leeches have been making a comeback in the medical world of late. Leeches were widely used up until this century for many medical conditions, including tonsillitis and piles.
But leeches are becoming big business as doctors go back to their roots. Biopharm, a leech farm in Wales, provides the NHS with 15,000 leeches a year and ships another 15,000 around the world. Marian Bower, the farm’s manager said business is booming. „We started as a small company in Wales. Now we have distribution offices around the world and are about to open another in South Africa,” she said.
The symptoms can include pain and fatigue in the legs, swollen ankles and calves, burning or itching skin, skin discoloration and leg ulcers. In less severe cases, thin, discolored vessels – “spider veins” – may be the only symptom.
Leech therapy has been proven to help patients suffering from. It can help reduce the pain and the swelling felt from varicose veins, and can help dissolve blood clots that have formed. But leech therapy is not so effective for patients whose venous disease is caused by insufficient valves and inadequate vessel dilation.
The saliva of leeches is known to contain beneficial enzymes. They have anticoagulation properties that help prevent blood from coagulating or thickening. A side from this, there is also an enzyme that breaks up formed blood clots which can occlude the veins. These two properties function to make the blood thin so that it flows freely in the veins. To further aid in this function, another enzyme acts as a vasodilator to allow better flow of blood.
Leech’s saliva also has antibacterial properties, which helps individuals who have open sores complicated by venous disease.
Leech therapy is best used in conjunction with weight management, diet, and exercise.
What Are the Symptoms of Ankle Ulcers?
Venous stasis ulcers aren’t always painful, but they might slightly burn or itch. They’re usually red, with yellowish skin over them. An infected ulcer may leak yellow or green fluid. The skin may feel warm or hot to the touch, and the area surrounding the ulcer may be swollen and discolored. Your legs may ache, and, depending on how swollen your ankle is, the skin may feel very tight and have a shiny appearance.
Who is at Risk for Ankle Ulcers ?
Venous ulcer affect people who have deep vein problems, usually from a past deep vein thrombosis (DVT), people who have superficial venous disease or those with ankle mobility problems. Also:
- previous leg swelling
- history of blood clots
- varicose veins
- history of inflammatory diseases