Hundreds of years ago, leeches were used to cure a number of diseases. Now approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), medicinal leeches are making a comeback.
Board certified hand and upper extremity orthopaedic surgeon, Darshdeep “Ishu” Singh, DO, MS, uses the medicinal leeches at his Bayhealth Orthopaedic Surgery practice.
“I use medicinal leeches to accomplish a number of goals for my patients,” said Dr. Singh, who is part of the Bayhealth Medical Group. “They are helpful in finger reattachment surgery and other reconstructive procedures. Leeches help to save skin grafts that may die because of a lack of blood flow.”
When a patient has a finger reattached, he or she may be a candidate for the rarely used but powerful therapy. “Blood can pool in the patient’s damaged tissue,” explained Dr. Singh. “This happens because the veins that used to provide drainage were destroyed.”
When blood pools, it can thicken and cause clots. Clots plug veins and cause tissue to die. “Leeches help restore the blood flow so further surgeries aren’t needed to save the finger.” The fluid that they produce during feeding also helps reduce pain.
Before a leech is placed on a patient’s wound, the area is cleaned with saline. The leeches – specifically bred and grown for medical use – feed for 5 to 15 minutes and fall off once they are full. A care provider closely observes the patient during the entire process.
During the feeding, leeches help restore blood flow and transform the otherwise dead tissue. The treatment and pain relief continue long after the leeches fall off thanks to a mix of chemicals they drool while feeding. The chemicals stop blood from clotting.
The leeches are bred specifically for medical use, are housed safely, and are medically controlled by hospital pharmacies and physician practices. After a leech has fed only once, it is treated like any other biohazard and is properly discarded.
Dr. Singh understands why some patients may hesitate to try leech therapy. “The benefits far outweigh the ‘ick’ factor,” he said.
However, some worry that leeches will suck too much blood. “In extremely rare cases, when a number of leeches are feeding at one time, blood loss can happen,” said Dr. Singh. “We use just one or two leeches at a time.”
After leech therapy, patients are often able to avoid additional surgeries to correct blood flow issues. “As you might imagine, my patients choose leech therapy when given the option,” commented Dr. Singh. “They may be tiny, but they are powerful creatures.”
Dr. Singh is board certified in orthopaedic surgery and specializes in hand and upper extremity surgery. He has special interest in hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder non-operative, arthroscopic and operative procedures. He treats patients with arthritis, fractures, tendon and nerve lacerations, and sports related hand and wrist injuries. Additionally, he has studied and explored many options for patients living with Dupuytren’s disease.
To learn more, please call Dr. Singh at 302-730-4366. He sees patients at 540 S. Governor’s Ave., Suite 201 in Dover, and 200 Kings Hwy., Suite 7 in Milford.