Venereal Disease Research Laboratory (VDRL) test

Contributed by Healthians Team

What is the VDRL test?

The venereal disease research laboratory (VDRL) test is intended to evaluate whether you have syphilis, which is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Syphilis is caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum. This bacteria infects the lining of your mouth or genitals. The VDRL test does not detect the bacterium that causes syphilis. This test looks for antibodies produced by your body in response to antigens produced by cells damaged by bacteria.

Antibodies are a class of proteins produced by your immune system to fight invaders such as bacteria or toxins. Testing for these antibodies can tell your doctor if you have syphilis. You do not need to have symptoms of syphilis for this test to be accurate. This is because it looks for antibodies produced as a result of a syphilis infection, but the VDRL test can be used regardless of your symptoms.

Who should get tested?

Your doctor will order a VDRL test if you suspect you have syphilis. Early symptoms that may prompt your doctor to recommend this test include a small and painless sore with swelling in nearby lymph nodes. A skin rash that doesn’t itch is another symptom. In other cases, your doctor may screen you for syphilis even if you show no symptoms.

For example, your doctor will screen you for syphilis as a routine part of your care when you are pregnant. This is a standard procedure to follow and does not mean your doctor thinks you have syphilis. Your doctor may also test you for syphilis if you are being treated for another STI, such as gonorrhea, if you are infected with HIV, or if you engage in high-risk sexual activity.

Why is testing necessary?

Your doctor may recommend a screen for syphilis to check how well treatment is working. This helps your doctor find a specific disease or condition before any symptoms appear. This helps in finding the infection to treat to avoid long-term problems.

What do test results mean?

If your test results are negative, you do not have syphilis. If it’s positive for syphilis antibodies, you probably have syphilis. In this case, your doctor will recommend a specific test to confirm the results. A treponemal test is often used to confirm a positive test. Treponemal tests check whether your immune system has produced specific antibodies in direct response to the syphilis-causing Treponema pallidum. The VDRL test is not always accurate because if you have had syphilis for less than three months, you may have a false-negative result because it may take that long for your body to make antibodies. The test is also unreliable in late-stage syphilis. On the other hand, diseases like HIV, Lyme disease, malaria, pneumonia, systemic lupus erythematosus, IV drug use, tuberculosis can cause false-positive results.

In some cases, your body can’t make antibodies even when you’re infected with syphilis. This means your VDRL test will be incorrect. Antibodies produced as a result of a syphilis infection may remain in your body after treatment. You can always show positive results in this test.

How is the test done?

All you need to do for the VDRL test is allow a healthcare professional to draw your blood. Blood is usually drawn from a vein in your arm. This blood sample is then sent to a laboratory. It is then tested for antibodies produced as a result of syphilis.

Take the VDRL test

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