Leech is a small blood-sucking worm that lives in the water. The adult leech is a hermaphrodite, meaning it has both male and female sex organs. Leeches reproduces by cross-fertilized eggs, it grows to the length of less than an inch (2.5cm) to 12inces (30cm) or more. Most leeches feed mainly on blood, but others eat worms, insect larvae, and other small forms of animal life. Few leeches actually require blood as food, though most will accept this food if the chance arises.
Medicinal leech is cross barred with brown and black and grows to eight inches (20cm) in length. The medicinal leech has a sucker at each end of the underside of its body. The sucker at one end contains the animal's mouth. The other sucker acts as a suction cup when the leech attaches itself to its victim. Once attached, the leech slashes its victim's skin with its sharp teeth and sucks the blood. The leech injects into the wound a substance that keep blood from clotting. A leech can ingest up to five times its weight in blood and then live up to 18 months without food.
In the 18th century when bloodletting(is the withdrawal of considerable quantities of blood from patient in the belief that this will cure or prevent diseases) was a common treatment for disease, physician used leeches to treat headache, arthritis, tuberculosis, lumbago, gout, and many other illnesses.
Other Uses of Leeches in Medicine:
- Leeches are still used sometimes to clear up the discoloration of black eyes.
- Saliva of leeches contains anti-inflammatory substances and other chemicals, which could relieve symptoms of arthritis.
- Leeches are also used after surgery and other treatments involving the reattachment of skin flaps to reestablish blood flow and promote healing in skin flaps, doctors not only must reattach arteries to enable the oxygen-rich blood to flow into traumatized tissue, they should also make sure that blood flows through and out of the tissue into reconnected veins. With the use of plastic surgery, reattached skin flaps present a challenge in reestablishing blood flow. The doctors will placed leeches on areas where normal blood flow should be restored, the leeches will then suck blood from such tissue, restoring blood flow and promoting healing.