The VDRL test, which stands for Venereal Disease Research Laboratory test, was designed to determine if an individual is suffering from syphilis which is a sexually transmitted infection. The bacterium Treponema pallidum causes syphilis. The bacterium causes infection by penetrating the lining of the genital area or the mouth. Like most other tests, the VDRL test does not look for the bacterium causing syphilis. It looks for the antibodies that the body produces in response to the antigens produced by the cells damaged by the bacteria. The immune system produces antibodies, which are proteins that can fight toxins and bacteria. The doctors would know if the individual has syphilis by testing for these antibodies. The liver blood test does a similar job where it looks for sgot, which is released in liver damage and thus acts as an indicator.
You would not need to have syphilis symptoms for tests to be accurate. The VDRL test checks for antibodies produced as a result of the infection, which means it can be tested whether or not you have symptoms.
When would the doctor ask you to go through the VDRL test?
The doctor would ask you to go through the test if he suspects you of having syphilis. The early symptoms could be a small and painless sore, skin rash without any itch and swellings in the lymph nodes near the sore. The doctor could even screen for syphilis if there are no symptoms or reasons to lead to believe that the disease might be present. The doctor would screen for syphilis routinely if he thinks that you are pregnant. This is part of a standard procedure and does not mean that there are reasons for you to have syphilis. The doctor could ask you to test if you are being treated for some other STI like gonorrhea if you have HIV infection or you have engaged in a high-risk sexual activity. It is recommended that you perform a follow-up testing if you have already undergone treatment for syphilis to ensure the treatment has worked, curing you of the infection.
What is done in the VDRL test?
The individual does not need to do anything during the VDRL test. The healthcare professional would draw the blood from a vein at the crease of the elbow or the back of the hand. The blood sample would then be sent to the laboratory. The sample would be tested for the antibodies that are produced as a protection against syphilis. The VDRL test does not require the individual to perform a fast or stop taking the medications. However, the doctor can make an exception and you would be notified before the test. In case the doctor suspects that the infection has spread to the brain, he would test the spinal fluid in addition to the blood. You should get regular lipid profile tests to ensure that the blood cholesterol levels are in order.
What do the test results indicate?
If the VDRL tests come back negative, then you are not suffering from syphilis. If the test results are positive, then there are chances that you might be suffering from syphilis. The doctor would order you to perform a more specific test to confirm the results if such a scenario takes place. This is confirmed using the treponemal test. The treponemal tests are much more specific. They check whether certain specific antibodies are present in the bloodstream which are produced directly as a response to the bacterium Treponema pallidum.
The VDRL test is thus the first step to ensure if you are suffering from syphilis.