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Syphilis Tests

How It Feels

Blood sample

The blood sample is taken from a vein in your arm. An elastic band is wrapped around your upper arm. It may feel tight. You may feel nothing at all from the needle, or you may feel a quick sting or pinch.

Sore or skin sample

You may have some discomfort when fluid is collected from an open sore (chancre). But chancres usually are not very tender or painful.

Spinal fluid sample

You may have some discomfort during a lumbar puncture to collect spinal fluid for syphilis testing. To learn more, see the topic Lumbar Puncture.

Risks

Blood sample

There is very little chance of a problem from having a blood sample taken from a vein.

  • You may get a small bruise at the site. You can lower the chance of bruising by keeping pressure on the site for several minutes.
  • In rare cases, the vein may become swollen after the blood sample is taken. This problem is called phlebitis. A warm compress can be used several times a day to treat this.
  • Ongoing bleeding can be a problem for people who have bleeding disorders. Aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), and other blood-thinning medicines can make bleeding more likely. If you have bleeding or clotting problems, or if you take blood-thinning medicine, tell your doctor before your blood sample is taken.

Sore or skin sample

There is very little risk of complications from having a sample taken from an open sore (chancre), skin rash, or mucous membrane.

Spinal fluid sample

There is little risk associated with having a lumbar puncture to obtain a spinal fluid sample for syphilis testing. To learn more, see the topic Lumbar Puncture.

Results

Syphilis tests detect antibodies in blood or body fluid or tissue to the bacterium that causes syphilis (Treponema pallidum). Results are usually available in 7 to 10 days.

Darkfield microscopic examination
Normal:

No syphilis bacteria are seen.

Abnormal:

Syphilis bacteria are seen.

 

Syphilis tests of blood and spinal fluid
Normal:

No antibodies to syphilis are present. This is called a nonreactive or negative result.

Abnormal:

Antibodies to syphilis bacteria are present. This is called a reactive or positive test.

A result that is not clearly normal or abnormal is called inconclusive or equivocal.

 

Venereal disease research laboratory (VDRL) and rapid plasma reagin (RPR) tests
Normal:

The antibody to the syphilis bacteria (reagin) is not present. This is called a nonreactive or negative result.

Abnormal:

The antibody reagin is present. This is called a reactive or positive test.

The accuracy of testing often depends on the stage of syphilis. Syphilis testing may need to be repeated if initial results are uncertain or if you have had repeated exposure to syphilis, such as from repeated unprotected intercourse.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 29, 2011
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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