Does this test have other names?

CSF VDRL, neurosyphilis test, neurosyphilis detection test

What is this test?

This test looks for signs of neurosyphilis in your cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).

Syphilis is a bacterial infection. It's a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can also be spread from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Neurosyphilis happens when syphilis isn't treated. It eventually affects the spinal cord, brain, and membranes surrounding the brain. Having HIV or AIDS increases the risk of developing neurosyphilis.

Why do I need this test?

You may need this test if your healthcare provider suspects that you have syphilis, neurosyphilis, or another STI. Neurosyphilis may not cause any symptoms in some people. Sometimes symptoms appear weeks or even years after neurosyphilis develops. Signs and symptoms of neurosyphilis may include:

  • Vomiting and nausea

  • Neck stiffness

  • Headaches

  • Hearing loss

  • Vision loss

  • Stroke

  • Bladder problems

  • Weak muscles

  • Poor coordination and balance

  • Difficulty walking

  • Personality and mood changes

You may also need this test if you have early symptoms of syphilis, including:

  • Sores (chancres) that affect your cervix, mouth, or throat

  • Skin rash, especially on your palms and soles

  • Tiredness

  • Headaches

  • Muscle aches

  • Weight loss

  • Patchy hair loss

  • Fever, sore throat, or swollen glands

You may also have this test if you are at risk for neurosyphilis, including having HIV or AIDS.

What other tests might I have along with this test?

Your healthcare provider may also order other tests to diagnose syphilis. These include:

  • Blood test for Treponema pallidum bacteria, which cause syphilis

  • Test to look at the fluid from a sore

What do my test results mean?

Test results may vary depending on your age, gender, health history, the method used for the test, and other things. Your test results may not mean you have a problem. Ask your healthcare provider what your test results mean for you. 

Normal results are negative, meaning that no syphilis bacteria or antibodies were found in your sample.

Positive results mean that bacteria or antibodies were found and that you may have neurosyphilis. It's possible to get a false-positive result. This means the results are positive even if you don't really have neurosyphilis.

How is this test done?

This test is done with a sample of CSF, which is taken through a lumbar puncture in your lower back. During this procedure, you either sit up and lean forward or lie down on your side. A healthcare provider puts a needle into your spine and draws out a sample of fluid.

Does this test pose any risks?

It's rare to develop complications after having this test. But potential risks include:

  • Headache

  • Infection

  • Bleeding

  • Cerebral herniation

  • Nerve pain or numbness

  • Back pain

Talk with your healthcare provider about the risks before the test. Be sure to tell your provider if you've had a seizure, increased pressure in your eyes, or other health problems. You may need to have other tests before having a lumbar puncture.

What might affect my test results?

Being pregnant or having an autoimmune disease might affect your results. Having an infection or recently getting a vaccine may cause a false-positive result.

How do I get ready for this test?

You don't need to prepare for this test. Be sure your healthcare provider knows about all medicines, herbs, vitamins, and supplements you are taking. This includes medicines that don't need a prescription and any illicit drugs you may use.

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