Institutional Outcomes of Leech Therapy for Venous Congestion in 87 Patients

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Abstract

Background

We aimed to report the outcomes associated with leech therapy and to identify risk factors associated with reconstructive failure.

Methods

We retrospectively reviewed cases of flap reconstruction or replanted appendages that required leech therapy over an 8-year period at the Duke University Medical Center. Using logistic regression, we assessed the association of risk factors with reconstructive failure.

Results

The study cohort included 87 patients which correspond to 2.1% of 4,115 cases done during the study period. The most common flap recipient site was the lower extremity (n = 33, 37.9%) followed by the upper extremity (n = 30, 34.5%), head and neck (n = 13, 14.9%), and trunk (n = 11, 12.6%). Flap types were pedicled in 44 (50.5%) cases and free in 24 (27.5%) cases. Fifteen (17.2%) were digital replantation, and four (4.5%) were replanted appendages. The average duration of therapy was 4.6 days (range: 1-11). The overall leech therapy success rate was 60.9% (53/87) and accounted for cases without flap loss (n = 45, 51.7%) and with partial flap loss in which the original reconstructive goal was achieved without further reconstructive procedures (n = 8, 9.2%). Postoperative blood transfusion was administered in 32 (36.7%) cases, and infectious complications occurred in 7 cases in spite of the administration of prophylactic antibiotics (8%).

Conclusions

This study represents the largest single-institution series evaluating the outcomes after leech therapy. Our data support the use of leeches as an adjunct for the management of venous congestion after reconstructive surgery. However, the morbidity associated with it should be considered, particularly the need for a blood transfusion.

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