Leech therapy in Siddha Medicine

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Roughly 600 leech species have been identified to date, but only about 15 are used in medicine. Leeches classified as “medicinal leeches”, Hirudo medicinalis, in the narrower sense have been used to treat patients for centuries.

Siddha Medicine explains different types of leeches and methods to cure various diseases through leech theraphy. 

leech therapy or hirudotherapy is called as aṭṭai viṭal (அட்டை விடல்) in Siddha Medicine

Hirudo medicinalis or speckled leech is present in the ponds where good smelling plants, such as lilly, Nymphaea alba are grown. It is also found hidden in the sand. Small sized leeches alone are useful for medicinal  purposes.

The leech is classified into three types:

1. Good leech, 2. bad leech 3. ordinary leech.

I. Good leech:
Good leech may be classified into four groups:-
1. First group Appears in white and golden colour.
2. Second group :    Appears like red water lily.
3. Third group        Has the colour of coral and the shape of rice.
4. Fourth group :   Appears in green or lemon colour.

II. Bad leech:
It appears in different colours such as black, blackish red and rain-bow.

III. Ordinary leech:
It is golden black in colour. The ordinary leech is 5-10 cm in length with slight sharp ends. The outer skin will have six lines and there will be constriction across the body. It has three teeth and the face will appear green.
The leeches available in motionless water which contains crabs, frogs and water snakes will not be useful for medicinal purposes.

Properties and uses of leech:

A leech has got the property of absorbing blood upto 120 drops. It is considered that the leech will absorb poisonous substances and purify the blood.
At a time more than 4-6 leeches should not be placed on the body
In cases of swelling due to injury, boils and abscesses, the leech is placed over the affected sites. The leech absorbs the blood and cures the disease conditions.
In uncontrolled vomiting the leech may be placed over the fonticulus gutturis.
It is placed over the forehead in case of intractable headache.
The leech is placed at the sites of chest disease and abdominal dis¬eases which are induced by fever.
In case of headache due to blockage of blood in piles, the leech is placed around the anus region. Care should be taken to see that the leech does not enter into the anal canal.
For control of headache caused by menopause, the leech is placed over the thigh.
For control of stomach pain due to dysentery, the leech is placed around the anus region.
In case of liver enlargement, the leech is placed over the site of the liver.
The leech is placed over the middle of the back for the control of whooping cough in children.
For various kinds of chronic swelling of the joints, the leech may be placed over the joints and satisfactory results be obtained.
In case of pain in eyes and eye brows with watering, the leech is placed 1.25 cm away from the lateral angle of the eye.

The sites where leech should not be placed:

The leech should mot be placed at the sites where the pulse are felt, over the eyelids, penis, anus and breast. In children, it is better to place the leech at the sites where skin is just adjacent to the bone. It is also preferrable to place the leech during the morning in children because the excessive bleeding which may occur sometimes may not be noticed during night.
Leech biting should not be done during day time in certain body parts as mentioned below:
Thithi (moon day): Not permissiable body parts:

I Moon day - Piradhamai Great toe
II Moon day - Thuthiyai Sole of the foot
in Moon day - Thirithigai Knee joint
IV Moon day - Chathurthi Thigh
V Moon day - Panchami Generative organs
VI Moon day - Shasti Umbilical region
vn Moon day - Sapthami Breast
vni Moon day - Ashtami Hands
IX Moon day- Navami Neck
X Moon day - Dhasami Female generative organ
XI Moon day - Ekathasi Tongue
xn Moon day- Thuvathasi Fore head
xm Moon day - Thirayothasi Eye lids
XIV Moon day - Chathurthasi Nape
XV Full moon Asy-Pooranam Head

Cleaning the leech:

Before allowing the leech to bite, it should be purified as follows: A broad-mouthed porcelain vessel is taken. The turmeric dissolved water is poured into the vessel and then the leech is placed inside the vessel; a mu¬cous like sunstance will be released the leech and now the leech is ready for use.

Preparation of the patient:

The patient should be given a laxative, emetic or diaphoretic medi¬cine on the previous day. Patient should have adequate sleep and food on the day of leech bite. The site of bites should be washed with brackish soil and red soil should be applied over the sites.

Methods to be followed for biting of leech:

Earthenware jar for holding medicinal leeches
1. An arrow mouthed vessel is taken and filled with water. The leech is placed inside. The vessel is tiled in such a way that the water will not come out. The leech will then adhere to the site of the bite.
2. If the leech does not adhere to the site of the bite by the above method, then the following method may be followed:
The site of the bite is scratched with the help of a clean pin so that the blood oozes from the site. The leech is then placed over the site, so tht it will firmly adhere to the bite site.
Removal of leech from the bite site:
Generally, the leech will fell down within half an hour to four hours after biting. If it has to be removed early, salt water or vinegar may be sprinkled at the site of bite.

Stoppage of excessive bleeding from the bite-site:

Parched alum powder or copper sulphate or turmeric poweder may be applied over the site of bite. Alternatively the site of bite may be pressed for a few minutes with fingers. Tincture benzoin may also be applied by cotton over the site of bleeding.
To increase the bleeding at the bite foementation may be applied with hot water husk or neem leaf.
The symptom of successful completion of blood letting through leech is that the body will be get rid of grief and distress after the removal of the toxic blood. The length of blood letting through leech is only of five finger length. If it exceeds, blood will flow profusely with itching and pain.

Treatment for ulcers caused by the leech bite:

1. Vinegar, gingelly seeds and Aloe vera are triturated and applied over the site of blood-letting.
2. Heat the Aloe vera leaf (madal) and cut it in to two parts and spray turmeric powder over it and tie over the site.
Re-using the leech:
The leech which fell down after the bite, is placed in husk and tur¬meric or sesame powder which sprinkled over its mouth; the leech will now bring out the sucked blood. It is then placed in clear water mixure of ant¬hill sand. However leech once used for blood letting should be re-used only after a gap of seven days otherwise the leech will get toxicity and may-cause, swelling,itching pain etc. at the bite site.

Siddha Materia Medica, (Animal Kingdom)


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