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Hirudo Medicinalis and the plastic surgeon.

  • Whitaker, I S
  • Izadi, D
  • Oliver, D W
  • Monteath, G
  • Butler, P E
Published Article
British journal of plastic surgery
Publication Date
Jun 01, 2004
PMID: 15145739


Medicinal leech therapy is an ancient craft that dates back to ancient Egypt and the beginnings of civilisation. The popularity of Hirudo Medicinalis has varied throughout history, reaching such a peak in Europe in the early 19th century that supplies were exhausted. During the latter half of the 19th century, their use fell out of favour, as they did not fit in with the emerging concepts of modern medicine. Leeches have enjoyed a renaissance in the world of reconstructive microsurgery during recent years, and their first reported use in alleviating venous engorgement following flap surgery was reported in this journal [M Derganc, F Zdravic, Venous congestion of flaps treated by application of leeches, Br J Plast Surg 13 (1960) 187]. Contemporary plastic and reconstructive surgeons in units throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland continue to use leeches to aid salvage of failing flaps. We carried out a survey of all 62 plastic surgery units in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland to assess the current extent of use, and to investigate current practice. We have shown that the majority of plastic surgery units in the UK and Ireland use leeches post-operatively and that the average number of patients requiring leech therapy was 10 cases per unit per year. Almost all units use antibiotic prophylaxis, but the type of antibiotic and combination used is variable. We outline current practice and suggest a protocol for the use of leeches. Whilst the use of leeches is widespread, the plastic surgery community has progressed little in defining indications for their use or in achieving an accepted protocol for their application in units throughout the UK and Ireland.

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