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Historical Article: Hirudo medicinalis: ancient origins of, and trends in the use of medicinal leeches throughout history

Whitaker, IS; Rao, J; Izadi, D; Butler, PE; (2004) Historical Article: Hirudo medicinalis: ancient origins of, and trends in the use of medicinal leeches throughout history. Br.J Oral Maxillofac.Surg. , 42 (2) 133 - 137.

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Abstract

Blood letting and the therapeutic use of Hirudo medicinalis date back to ancient Egypt and the beginning of civilisation. Their popularity has varied over the years, reaching such a peak in Europe between 1825 and 1850 that supplies were exhausted. Towards the end of the century they fell out of favour and, during this period, the leech, once used by the physicians of emperors and influential academic surgeons, became associated with lay therapists and quackery. Leeches have enjoyed a renaissance in reconstructive microsurgery during the last 15 years, having been used by maxillofacial [Br. J. Oral Maxillofac. Surg 41 (2003) 44] and other reconstructive surgeons to aid salvage of compromised microvascular free tissue transfers [Laryngoscope 108 (1998) 1129; Br. J. Plast. Surg. 34 (1984) 358], replanted digits [Int. J. Microsurg. 3 (1981) 265], ears [Ann. Plast. Surg. 43 (1999) 427], lips [Plast. Reconstr. Surg. 102 (1998) 358; J. Reconstr. Microsurg. 9 (1993) 327] and nasal tips [Br. J. Oral Maxillofac. Surg. 36 (1998) 462]. Peer-reviewed evidence suggests that the survival of compromised, venous-congested tissues is improved by early application of a leech [J. Reconstr. Microsurg. 12 (1996) 165; Arch. Otolaryngol. Head Neck Surg. 114 (1988) 1395; Br. J. Plast. Surg. 45 (1992) 235]. Leeches have also recently been used to treat a wide range of conditions, including periorbital haematomas [Br. J. Ophthalmol. 75 (1991) 755], severe macroglossia [Otolaryngol. Head Neck Surg. 125 (2001) 649; J. Laryngol. Otol. 109 (1995) 442] and purpura fulminans [Ann. Plast. Surg. 35 (1995) 300]. The first medicinal leech farm, Biopharm, was set up in Swansea in 1981 by Dr Roy Sawyer, and now supplies leeches to hospitals all over the world. In this paper, we summarise the history of treatment with Hirudo medicinalis from its origin to the present day, and take a brief look at the possible future of the annelid

Type:Article
Title:Historical Article: Hirudo medicinalis: ancient origins of, and trends in the use of medicinal leeches throughout history
Additional information:DA - 20040311IS - 0266-4356 (Print)LA - engPT - Historical ArticlePT - Journal ArticleSB - DSB - IM
Keywords:history, trends, blood, Egypt, Europe, Greece, history, History, 18th Century, 19th Century, 20th Century, 21st Century, Ancient, Medieval, Leeches, Leeching, Microsurgery, Neck, Rome, therapeutic use, United States
UCL classification:UCL > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Medical Sciences > Surgery and Interventional Science (Division of)

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