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Take two leeches and call me in the morning

4 minutes

Once dismissed as quackery, medical leeches are back for blood

For thousands of years before modern science-based medicine became the norm, bloodletting, frequently by leeches, was considered something of a medical cure-all. The treatment’s persistence was at least partially attributable to the Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates’ ‘four humours’ theory of disease, which held that illness was the result of an imbalance of the bodily fluids black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. With the rise of modern scientific medicine near the end of the 18th century, bloodletting leeches were relegated to the quack cabinet as doctors realised that the practice generally fixed very little, leaving patients weak and vulnerable from blood loss. But as this video from the science and nature documentary series Deep Look shows (in occasionally graphic, ultra-HD detail that is, perhaps, not for the squeamish), medical leeches have made a surprising comeback in hospitals, especially during reconstructive surgeries. Learn more about this video at the KQED Science website.

Video by KQED Science and PBS Digital Studios

Producer and Writer: Josh Cassidy

Narrator and Writer: Lauren Sommer

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Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious thinking.
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But we can’t do it without you.

Support Aeon

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