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Medicinal leech therapy in pain syndromes: a narrative review

Schmerztherapie mit medizinischen Blutegeln – Eine zusammenfassende Übersicht

Summary

Medicinal leech therapy is used in a variety of conditions; most of which have pain as a major symptom. Its mode of action relies on the injection of leech saliva into patients’ tissues during the process of blood withdrawal. Leech saliva contains active ingredients with anti-inflammatory, thrombolytic, anti-coagulant and blood- and lymph-circulation enhancing properties. A specific analgesic substance within the leech saliva is yet to be identified. Pain relief from leech therapy is rapid, effective and long-lasting in many conditions. This review compiles studies and case reports that provide clinical evidence for leech therapy’s analgesic effects.

Zusammenfassung

Die medizinische Blutegeltherapie wird in einer Vielzahl von Indikationen angewendet, sehr häufig zur Behandlung der Schmerzsymptomatik. Der Wirkmechanismus der Blutegeltherapie beruht vor allem in der sekretorischen Abgabe von Wirkstoffen im Verlauf des Saugvorgangs. Dieses Sekret enthält Substanzen mit anti-entzündlicher, thrombolytischer, gerinnungshemmender sowie Blut- und Lymphkreislauf anregender Wirkung. Eine spezifisch analgetisch wirksame Substanz konnte bisher nicht identifiziert werden. Dennoch zeigt sich in einer Vielzahl klinischer Anwendungen der Blutegeltherapie eine rasch eintretende und lange wirksame Schmerzlinderung. Die folgende Übersicht fasst die Ergebnisse klinischer Studien und Fallberichte zusammen, die auf die analgetische Wirkung der medizinischen Blutegeltherapie hinweisen.

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Conflict of interest

No funding was provided for this paper.

Michael Aurich and Detlev Koeppen are scientific staff members of the leech breeding facility Biebertaler Blutegelzucht GmbH in Biebertal/Germany.

Thomas Rampp is Assistant Medical Director of the Department of Internal and Integrative Medicine at Kliniken Essen-Mitte, Faculty of Medicine University Duisburg-Essen/Germany.

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Koeppen, D., Aurich, M. & Rampp, T. Medicinal leech therapy in pain syndromes: a narrative review. Wien Med Wochenschr 164, 95–102 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10354-013-0236-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10354-013-0236-y

Keywords

  • Leech therapy
  • Hirudotherapy
  • Pain treatment

Schlüsselwörter

  • Blutegeltherapie
  • Hirudotherapie
  • Schmerztherapie