What is this test?

The venereal disease research laboratory (VDRL) test, is used to detect syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease (STD). This test does not detect the presence of bacteria, but checks for the antibodies produced in response to the antigens released by the cells of disease-causing bacteria.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by bacterial infection. This infection spreads through oral, vaginal or anal contact with an infected person. It can also spread through direct contact with a syphilis sore. The bacteria which causes syphilis is Treponema pallidum. The stages of syphilis include Primary syphilis, secondary syphilis, and tertiary syphilis.

  • Primary syphilis: It is the early stage of syphilis which starts around 2-3 weeks after the infection. In this stage, painless sores appear at the site of exposure to the infection like vagina, penis, mouth, anus or rectum. These sores are usually called chancres. These chancres can spread easily and can be cured with medicines or they can be self-healed within 3-6 weeks.
  • Secondary syphilis: If primary syphilis is not healed and left untreated then secondary syphilis may develop. It may occur within 6 weeks to 6 months after the chancre formation. In this stage, the symptoms include fever, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, tiredness, rashes without itch is found on the hands and feet which is reddish brown in color.
  • Tertiary syphilis: If secondary syphilis is also left untreated it converts to latent stage i.e tertiary syphilis. In this stage the symptoms are absent but the infection persists. This stage may last for years. This stage if left untreated may damage your organs and lead to numbness, dementia (loss of memory), problems with your eyes, unable to control muscle movements and may even lead to death.

Why is this test performed?

This test is performed to detect the syphilis antibodies in the body. This helps in diagnosing the syphilis infection. This test is done when you are at the risk of getting syphilis, such as when you have a sexual partner with syphilis if you have other STDs like gonorrhea, chlamydia or HIV infection, when you are involved in a high-risk sexual activity, when you had man-to-man sexual contact, if you are pregnant, etc. This test may be recommended to you if you experience symptoms like a sore (chancre) at the genital regions or on the throat, itchless reddish-brown rash on palms, the bottom of the feet, fever, swollen lymph glands, body pains, sore throat, etc.

What do the test results mean?

The reference range may vary depending on the gender, age, health history, your condition, etc.

If your VDRL test results show negative, then it may indicate that infection is absent. The antibodies cannot be detected for several weeks after the exposure to bacteria. Hence repeat the test after a few weeks for confirmation.

If your test results show positive, then it may indicate that you are affected with syphilis infection. The false-positive test results may be due to HIV, pneumonia, tuberculosis, Lyme disease, malaria, systemic lupus erythematosus, IV drug use, etc.

If you get abnormal test results, consult your doctor immediately. Your doctor may recommend other tests depending on your test results.


If you get positive test results then inform your partner about it and ask he/ she to undergo the test.

Also known as VDRL.

Test Preparation

Inform your doctor if you are on any medications, have any allergies or underlying medical conditions before your VDRL Test. Your doctor will give specific instructions depending on your condition on how to prepare for VDRL Test.

No specific preparation is required for this test.

Understanding your test results

GenderAge groupsValue
UNISEXAll age groupsAntibodies are present in positive cases
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