History of Bloodletting

By Paige Cramer


Medicinal bloodletting or venesection is the removal of bloodfrom the body try opening a vein so as to reduce the volume of blood within the body. There were two main bloodletting techniques used during antiquity: venesection, the cutting open of a vein; and cupping. With the advent of more modern times, the methods used in antiquity, though not entirely supplanted by leeching, became less widely practiced. During the Middle Ages 500-1500 AD, barber surgeons were known to use bloodletting as a cleansing and purifying process in bathhouses, sometimes using leeches; the red and white stripes of the barber pole began as bloody and clean rags from bloodletting with a sliver-like bleeding cup on the top. Beginning in the late 1700s, lhe leech became more popular because it caused less pain to tbe patient and was more reliable in regulating the amount of blood removed. However, due to the advent of physiology, pathology, and microbiology in the late 19th century, the leech fell out of favor. In 1960, however, M. Derganc and F. Zdravic, two Slovenian surgeons, revived the leech’s use, and it was brought back to the medical field for reconstructive surgeries and microsurgeries. Leeches were and still are used in reattachment surgeries of fingers, toes, legs, ears, noses, and scalps – even in breast reduction. Through the ages, bloodletting bas evolved from bleeding people almost to death, as in George Washington’s case in 1799, to the mania of letthing in the 19th century to the controlled use of leeches in microsurgery today. The leech is no longer ubiquitous, but wormed its way back into tbe medical field. Altbough it is doubtful tbat the demand for leeches will ever again place them on the endangered species list, they’ve assumed a valuable role in the treatment of human disorders.

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