Rep. Bachmann, Leeches And Other Cures

Photo: Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

When the leech begins its work – using its 360 minuscule teeth to scissor in – he laughs, “Now we are into business!”

(Andrew Plucinski, hirudotherapist.)

Could leeches help Rep. Michele Bachmann’s affliction?

This is not a joke, and is not intended in any way to be disrespectful towards Rep. Bachmann’s challenge of dealing with migraine headaches, recently reported in the context of her candidacy for President of the United States. Migraines affect an estimated 36 million Americans, regardless of their political opinions. How an individual deals with them is another matter. Some sufferers simply find a dark, quiet room and wait it out until the pain subsides, but that doesn’t usually work. Most seek out prescription medications that can be highly effective in managing future episodes and in minimizing discomfort when they do arise.

Surprisingly, even in 2011 a medieval therapy is still being used by some. According to a recent article in The New York Times, leeches are being used at a Holistic Health Center in Brooklyn, New York to treat not only migraines, but a range of afflictions such as varicose veins, dental pain that would normally require a root canal (really?), injured joints and even as an anti-aging treatment to deal with those facial wrinkles.

Even more surprising, the FDA approved leeches for use as “medical devices” in 2004.

After surgery, with few veins connected, blood tends to engorge the appendage, then to clot, turn blue and – in the worst cases – kill it, said Dr. L. Scott Levin, a Duke University hand surgeon. To buy time for the body to create its own veinous attachments, surgeons use leeches.

Leeches naturally inject patients with a potent chemical cocktail that includes an anticoagulant, an anesthetic, an antibiotic and a substance that dilates blood vessels. This cocktail encourages fast bleeding to empty the appendage of extra blood, reducing pressure and allowing veins to form on their own.

You don’t need a degree to become a hirudotherapist. Some courses are required to practice it: According to the Academy of Hirudotherapy:

AHT Certificate and Diploma programs do not constitute a degree. Credits earned in Anatomy & Physiology could be used at advanced degree programs.

How does Rep. Bachmann deal with migraines?

According to one report:

Her campaign permitted her son, Dr. Lucas Bachmann, a medical resident at the University of Connecticut, and her brother, Dr. Paul Amble, a forensic psychiatrist at Yale, to say that she takes medication to prevent migraines, as well as pain and antinausea medication when they occur.

Her position on Health Care and the pharmaceutical industry is relevant in this context, as she relies on the latest discoveries in medications to treat this affliction. According to her website:

As President, I will work to unleash the power of medical innovation and personal choices. Because a cure is always better and cheaper than care – after all, it was once predicted we would spend billions a year on polio. I will empower your families and doctors, not unelected bureaucrats, to make the right decisions about the shape and form of your health insurance, your quality of care and your course of treatment. And I will push for greater competition in the healthcare market.

It’s hard to argue with such a general statement, but implementation is always the challenge. {Well, some believe it’s easy to argue with such statements, but they often approach it in an oversimplified way.}

The devil (or the God) is in the details, and I would rather stay away from leeches.


  1. #1 Cuttlefish
    July 24, 2011

    If leeches could help with my migraines, I would gladly use them. Thing is, I can see how they could treat varicose veins, and I can see their use in re-attached appendages (too late, alas, for me), but the blood supply to the brain is not the same as the blood supply to the scalp–exactly where should I be placing these leeches?

    I do suspect that if I placed a sufficient number of leeches on Michele Bachmann, it would alleviate at least some of my headaches.

    It’s a testable question.

  2. #2 Paul Murray
    July 25, 2011

    I’m convinced that trepanation is all about migraine headaches. “Letting the demons out” and so forth. I don’t get ’em anymore, which is a mercy.

New comments have been disabled.