Syphilis Home > Syphilis Diagnosis

The process a doctor uses to make a syphilis diagnosis typically includes performing a thorough medical exam and conducting certain tests. The disease can be identified in its early stages by a chancre or rash and then confirmed through laboratory tests. It can be difficult for a physician to make a syphilis diagnosis simply based on symptoms, because other diseases share similar symptoms.

Syphilis Diagnosis: An Overview

In order to make a syphilis diagnosis, your doctor will likely ask a number of questions about your medical history, perform a physical exam, and recommend certain syphilis tests. As part of identifying the bacteria that causes syphilis (Treponema pallidum), the doctor will also rule out other causes of possible syphilis symptoms.
 

Testing for Syphilis

Your healthcare provider can diagnose early syphilis by seeing a chancre or rash and then confirming the diagnosis with laboratory tests. Because latent syphilis has no symptoms, it is only diagnosed by laboratory tests.
 
Two syphilis tests used when making a syphilis diagnosis include:
 
  • Identifying the bacteria in a sample taken from a lesion and placed on a microscope slide (dark-field microscope)
  • Blood test for syphilis.
     
Shortly after infection occurs, the body produces syphilis antibodies that can be detected by an accurate, safe, and inexpensive blood test. A low level of antibodies will stay in the blood for months or even years after the disease has been successfully treated. Because untreated syphilis in a pregnant woman can infect and possibly kill her developing baby, every pregnant woman should have a blood test for syphilis.
 
If your doctor thinks you might have neurosyphilis, your spinal fluid will be tested as well.
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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