Syphilis Test

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Also known as: VDRL; RPR; FTA; TPHA
Formal name: Treponema pallidum

At a Glance

Why Get Tested?

To screen for syphilis infection

When to Get Tested?

If you have symptoms of a syphilis infection, if you have another STD, or are pregnant

Sample Required?

Usually a scraping from a chancre (ulcer or sore) in the affected area, a blood sample from a vein in your arm, or a spinal tap (lumbar puncture), depending on the test being used

The Test Sample

What is being tested?

The test is looking for evidence of Treponema pallidum, the bacterium that causes syphilis. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease. It is easily treated but can cause severe health problems if left untreated.

How is the sample collected for testing?

There are several different methods and tests for the identification of syphilis infection. A sample may be:

  • A scraping from a chancre (sore) on the affected area (the cervix, penis, anus, or throat)
  • A blood sample from a vein in your arm to detect antibodies to syphilis in your blood
  • A spinal tap (lumbar puncture) may be necessary if you have late or latent stages of the disease to check for infection of the nervous system

NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.

Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.

The Test

Common Questions

Ask a Laboratory Scientist

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NOTE: This article is based on research that utilizes the sources cited here as well as the collective experience of the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board. This article is periodically reviewed by the Editorial Board and may be updated as a result of the review. Any new sources cited will be added to the list and distinguished from the original sources used.