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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 disease (STD) that can also be spread from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Neurosyphilis happens when syphilis isn't treated and 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 doctor suspects that you have syphilis, neurosyphilis, or another STD. Neurosyphilis may not cause any symptoms in some people, and 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 called chancres that affect your cervix, mouth, or throat

  • Skin rash, especially on your palms and soles

  • Fatigue

  • 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 doctor may also order other tests to diagnose syphilis, including:

  • Blood test for Treponema pallidum bacteria, which causes syphilis

  • Test to look at the fluid from a sore

What do my test results mean?

Many things may affect your lab test results. These include the method each lab uses to do the test. Even if your test results are different from the normal value, you may not have a problem. To learn what the results mean for you, talk with your health care provider.

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, meaning that the results are positive even if you don't really have neurosyphilis.

How is this test done?

This test requires 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 health care provider inserts 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 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. But be sure your doctor 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.