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Improve Circulation

We use leeches rather infrequently, usually with severed digits that were reattached or less commonly flap grafts. Indication is venous engorgement of digit/graft, i.e. arterial supply is OK but venous return is not, so digit/graft gets engorged which can then imperil the arterial supply leading to tissue necrosis, loss of digit/graft, etc. The leeches essentially siphon off the blood, things don’t get so engorged (the leeches do instead) and the body eventually re-establishes adequate venous return. Usually works pretty well.

Stan Shikuma, RN

I have seen them used on fingers / toes to help with the circulation. It had been years ago, and I was surprised. The nurses on that unit said that it worked.

Yes, some vascular surgeons use leeches to help restore microcirculation in instances of attempted repair of traumatic amputation of extremities. Contact your pharmaceutical wholesaler for information regarding how leeches may be obtained for medical use.

Bill Mayers, RT, RN

Leeches are used because they secrete a 'way cool anticoagulant (hirudin) which is useful in microsurgery (like digit/limb/ear reattachment) because it keeps the capillaries from sludging up as the reimplantation "takes". If used on kids, they get attached to their little buddies. Don't tell 'em they're going to that big hopper in the sky when they're full up. Say they're going back to a nice pond for early retirement. Check out a good textbook on reimpantation or vascular surgery.