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Syphilis Tests

How To Prepare

Tell your doctor if you:

  • Are taking any medicines, such as antibiotics.
  • Are allergic to any medicines, especially antibiotics, or medicine used to numb the skin (anesthetics).
  • Have had bleeding problems or take blood-thinners, such as aspirin or warfarin (Coumadin).
  • Are or might be pregnant.

If you have syphilis, do not have sex until the test results show you are no longer infected or until you and your sex partner or partners have completed treatment and the infection has been cured. Your sex partners should be tested as well.

If you think you might have syphilis, do not have sex until testing shows that you are not infected.

Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results may mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).

How It Is Done

A syphilis test may be done on a sample of blood, sore, skin, or spinal fluid, depending on which type of test is done.

Blood sample

The health professional taking a sample of your blood will:

  • Wrap an elastic band around your upper arm to stop the flow of blood. This makes the veins below the band larger so it is easier to put a needle into the vein.
  • Clean the needle site with alcohol. Put the needle into the vein. More than one needle stick may be needed.
  • Attach a tube to the needle to fill it with blood. Remove the band from your arm when enough blood is collected.
  • Put a gauze pad or cotton ball over the needle site as the needle is removed.
  • Put pressure on the site and then put on a bandage.

Sore or skin sample

A sample of fluid or tissue may be taken from an open sore (chancre) or from a rash that might be caused by syphilis.

  • A fluid sample is obtained by gently pressing the chancre.
  • Skin or mucous membrane samples may be obtained by gently rubbing a cotton-tipped swab over the area affected.

Fluid from a sore that may be caused by syphilis sometimes is collected and examined with a special type of microscope (darkfield microscope).

Spinal fluid sample

A spinal tap (lumbar puncture) is done to collect a spinal fluid sample for syphilis testing.

For a lumbar puncture, a thin needle is inserted into the spinal canal in the lower back area. After the needle is in place, a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is removed from the spinal canal. To learn more, see the topic Lumbar Puncture.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 08, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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