The CSF-VDRL test is used to help diagnose neurosyphilis. It looks for substances called reagins, which are sometimes produced by the body in reaction to the syphilis-causing bacteria.
Venereal disease research laboratory slide test - CSF
How the test is performed
A sample of spinal fluid is needed. For information on how this is taken, see: Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
Why the test is performed
The CSF-VDRL test is done to diagnose syphilis in the brain or spinal cord. Brain and spinal cord involvement is usually a sign of late stage syphilis.
Blood screening tests (VDRL and RPR) are better at detecting middle stage (secondary) syphilis.
A negative result is normal.
However, false-negatives can occur. This means you can have syphilis even if this test is normal. Therefore, a negative test does not always rule out the infection. Other signs and tests may be used to diagnose neurosyphilis.
What abnormal results mean
A positive result is abnormal and is a sign of neurosyphilis.
Tramont EC. Treponema pallidum (Syphilis). In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 238.
Fletcher JJ, Nathan BR. Cerebrospinal fluid and intracranial pressure. In: Goetz, CG, eds. Textbook of Clinical Neurology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 26.
Workowski KA, Berman S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2010. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2010 Dec 17;59(RR-12):1-110.
Hook EW III. Syphilis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 327.
Last reviewed 8/15/2012 by Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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