Carolinas HealthCare System

Health Information - Test

Search Health Information   
 

VDRL test

Definition

The VDRL test is a screening test for syphilis. It measures substances, called antibodies, that your body may produce if you have come in contact with the bacteria that causes syphilis. This bacteria is called Treponema pallidum.

The test is similar to the newer rapid plasma reagin (RPR) test.

Alternative Names

Venereal disease research laboratory test

How the test is performed

The test is usually done using a blood sample. It can also be done using a sample of spinal fluid. This article discusses the blood test.

A blood sample is needed. For information on how this is done, see: Venipuncture

How the test will feel

When the needle is inserted to draw blood, you may feel moderate pain, or only a prick or stinging sensation. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.

Why the test is performed

This test is used to diagnose syphilis. Your health care provider may order this test if you have signs and symptoms of a sexually transmitted illness (STI).

Syphilis screening is a routine part of prenatal care during pregnancy. Several states also require screening for syphilis prior to obtaining a marriage license.

Normal Values

A negative test is normal. It means that no antibodies to syphilis have been seen in your blood sample.

The screening test is most likely to be positive in the secondary and latent stages of syphilis. This test may give a false-negative result during early- and late-stage syphilis.

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Some labs use different measurements or test different samples. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

What abnormal results mean

A positive test result may mean you have syphilis. If the test is positive, the next step is to confirm the results with an FTA-ABS test, which is a more specific syphilis test.

The VDRL test's ability to detect syphilis depends on the stage of the disease. The test's sensitivity to detect syphilis nears 100% during the middle stages; it is less sensitive during the earlier and later stages.

Some conditions may cause a false positive test, including:

  • HIV
  • Lyme disease
  • Certain types of pneumonia
  • Malaria
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus

What the risks are

Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Obtaining a blood sample from some people may be more difficult than from others.

Other risks associated with having blood drawn are slight but may include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fainting or feeling light-headed
  • Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)

Special considerations

The body does not always produce antibodies specifically in response to the syphilis bacteria, so this test is not always accurate.

References

Tramont EC. Treponema pallidum (syphilis). In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 238.

Workowski KA, Berman S; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2010. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2010;59:1-110.


Review Date: 8/24/2011
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
adam.com
 
About Carolinas HealthCare System
Who We Are
Leadership
Community Benefit
Corporate Financial Information
Diversity & Inclusion
Annual Report
Foundation
Patient Links
Pay Your Bill
Hospital Pre-Registration
Patient Rights
Privacy
Financial Assistance
Quality & Value Reports
Insurance
Careers
Join Carolinas HealthCare System
Physician Careers

For Employees
Carolinas Connect
Connect with Us
Watch Carolinas HealthCare on YoutubeFollow Carolinas HealthCare on TwitterLike Carolinas HealthCare on FacebookContact Carolinas HealthCareJoin Carolinas HealthCare on LinkedInGo to our mobile website.