Leech Therapy Protects Free Flaps against Venous Congestion, Thrombus Formation, and Ischemia/ Reperfusion Injury: Benefits, Complications, and Contradictions



1 Orthopedic Research Center, Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, Mashhad, Iran

2 2 Department of clinical pathology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran.

3 Department of Clinical Pathology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran


The use of free cutaneous or myocutaneous flaps in some surgeries, especially in reconstructive surgeries, is routine 
and imperative; nevertheless, it is controversial because of fear of flap loss due to tissue congestion and partial or 
complete necrosis. Different mechanisms are discussed in this process, and based on the involved mechanisms, 
various agents and approaches are suggested for flap salvage. Among these agents and strategies, leech therapy 
(hirudotherapy) can be a valuable complementary treatment; however, in this way, full attention should be given to all 
beneficial and harmful aspects to reach the best results.
This study included a literature review of the essential complications following free tissue transfer and explained the 
effects of leech therapy for the respective complications. 
Based on the review of the literature, the essential complications following free tissue transfer were (I) venous obstruction 
and congestion, (II) delay in blood flow reestablishment, (III) ischemia/reperfusion injuries, and (IV) thrombus formation. 
Leech therapy can protect free flaps against the mentioned complications as a complementary treatment. 
Leech therapy is an appropriate complement, however, not a definite approach for flap salvage. Therefore, in some 
patients, other alternative methods or even flap removal may be a better option


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