Can you screen for syphilis using the VDRL test?

Among the sexually transmitted diseases, Syphilis is one that is known to cause symptoms like sores and skin rashes called chancres. The disease is easy to treat with the help of antibiotics but it might lead to serious problems if left untreated. It is only possible for the doctor to know for sure if you might have syphilis. The doctor would conduct a physical exam and even check your genitals. A blood test, the VDRL test might even be required. The results would be back within a few days.

The blood tests would say if the body is producing antibodies to fight against the infection. The antibodies that fight against the syphilis bacteria remain in the body for quite a long time and the doctor would be able to tell you if you had been infected, even if the infection had been quite a while ago. Even if you had been treated for the disease, you can catch the infection again by having sex with someone who has the infection. You would need to talk to the doctor about syphilis testing or other STDs if you are active sexually.

What is the basis of the VDRL test?

The VDRL test is based on the fact that the body would produce antibodies when it is infected. In this VDRL test, the antibody is detected when the serum is subjected to an antigen. The antigen is composed of a colourless alcoholic solution of cholesterol, beef cardiolipin and lecithin. This test acts as a qualitative test for the screening of syphilis. However, a drawback of the test is that the antibody detects antigens which are not specific and thus a lot of false-positive reaction is interpreted.

When would the doctors perform this test?

The doctors are most likely to order the test if there is a chance for you to have syphilis. The early symptoms that could prompt the doctor would include skin rashes that do not itch or a small and painless sore, accompanied by swelling in the lymph nodes nearby. The doctor would also do a routine checkup if the individual is pregnant. In certain similar cases, the doctor asks to get the test even if you do not have symptoms or show reasons to lead to such a belief.

What is the procedure of the VDRL test?

The only thing that you would need to do is allow the technician to draw the blood. It is just as simple as a blood sugar test, which is used to check the blood sugar levels in the body. The random blood sugar tests help to manage diabetes by following a proper plan and making sure that you do not indulge in unhealthy activities.

The blood would generally be drawn from a vein at the back of the hand or near the elbow. The VDRL test does not have any fasting requirement. The doctor would let you know if he needs to make an exception.

What would be the interpretation of the test results?

The test results would be negative in a healthy person. This is an indication that no antibodies have been produced which means the bacterium Treponema pallidum is not present. One cannot say with certainty that the person has syphilis even if the test results are positive. False-positive test results can be yielded and further doubts can be removed by taking a thorough history of the patient and conducting tests to exclude the chances of other diseases. The results can even become negative in the absence of treatment in every fourth case. The sensitivity of the nontreponemal and treponemal tests increases with the duration of infection.

Thus the VDRL test can be a good measure of detecting syphilis.

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