■ How does leech therapy work? Medicinal leeches have three jaws with tiny rows of teeth. They pierce a person’s skin with their teeth and insert anticoagulants through their saliva. The leeches are then allowed to extract blood, for 20 to 45 minutes at a time, from the person undergoing treatment. This equates to a relatively small amount of blood, up to 15 milliliters per leech. Medicinal leeches most often come from Hungary or Sweden.
■ There are several situations in which leech therapy may be used. People who may benefit include those who risk limb amputation due to the side effects of diabetes, those who have been diagnosed with heart disease, and those who are undergoing cosmetic surgery in which they risk the loss of some of their soft tissue. The therapy has also been recommended to treat blood clots and varicose veins.
■ People with anemia, blood clotting conditions, or compromised arteries are not candidates for leech therapy. Children under the age of 18 years old and women who are pregnant are also usually advised to avoid it.