Author(s): Utley DS, Koch RJ, Goode RL
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Abstract OBJECTIVE: To review the use of the medicinal leech, Hirudo medicinalis, in salvaging the failing, venous-congested flap. A protocol for the use of leeches is presented. Four illustrative cases of failing flaps (pectoralis major, midline forehead, and temporalis) are presented. STUDY DESIGN: Literature review comprised of MEDLINE search 1965 to present. Retrospective review of four cases involving the management of the failing, venous-congested flap. METHODS: A retrospective review of four cases of failing, venous-congested flaps was performed. RESULTS: The authors' experience, as well as the data from the reviewed medical literature, demonstrates the importance of early intervention in order to salvage the failing, venous-congested flap. Leeches are an immediate and efficacious treatment option. CONCLUSIONS: 1. Review of the literature indicates that the survival of the compromised, venous-congested flap is improved by early intervention with the medicinal leech. H medicinalis injects salivary components that inhibit both platelet aggregation and the coagulation cascade. The flap is decongested initially as the leech extracts blood and is further decongested as the bite wound oozes after the leech detaches. 2. When a flap begins to fail, salvage of that flap demands early recognition of reversible processes, such as venous congestion. The surgeon must be familiar with the use of leeches and should consider their use early, since flaps demonstrate significantly decreased survival after 3 hours if venous congestion is not relieved. In the four cases presented, a standardized protocol facilitated early leech use and provided for the psychological preparation of the patient, availability of leeches, and an antibiotic prophylaxis regimen. 3. The complications associated with leech use can be minimized with antibiotic therapy, wound care, and hematocrit monitoring. 4. The use of the medicinal leech for salvage of the venous-congested flap is a safe, efficacious, economical, and well-tolerated intervention.
This article was published in Laryngoscope
and referenced in Journal of Clinical Case Reports