Rapid Plasma Reagin
Does this test have other names?
RPR test, syphilis test
What is this test?
The rapid plasma reagin (RPR) test is a blood test that looks for antibodies to syphilis.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that first causes symptoms common
to many other illnesses. Early symptoms include fever, swollen glands, muscle aches,
and sore throat.
In addition, people who have early-stage syphilis may have sores (lesions) that can
pass the infection on to other people during sexual contact.
If undetected, syphilis can stay in the body for years, causing damage to internal
organs. Eventually, it can cause numbness, paralysis, blindness, and even death. But
it can be easily cured if treated in the early stages with one shot of penicillin
The RPR test looks for antibodies that react to syphilis in the blood. This means
the test doesn't detect Treponema pallidum, the actual bacterium that causes syphilis.
Instead, it looks for antibodies against substances given off by cells that have been
harmed by the bacteria.
Why do I need this test?
You may have this test if you have ever been sexually active and show signs of syphilis.
These signs may include:
Small, painless sore (chancre) at the place where syphilis invaded your body
Skin rash, sometimes on the palms of your hands or the bottoms of your feet
Swollen lymph glands
Years after the initial infection, in the final stages of the disease, symptoms include
numbness, paralysis, blindness, and dementia.
The RPR test is often used to monitor treatment of a syphilis infection. If you are
being treated for syphilis, you need to stop having sex until your sores have healed
completely. In addition, your partner(s) should be told so they can also be tested
and treated if needed.
If you are a sexually active adult with HIV/AIDS, your healthcare provider will likely
order the RPR test at least once a year. In addition, screenings for syphilis and
other STDs are recommended every 3 to 6 months if you have had unprotected sex, multiple
sex partners, or intercourse while under the influence of illicit drugs, including
methamphetamine. Condoms help prevent the spread of syphilis, but do not protect against
sores outside the condom area.
Your healthcare provider may also order the RPR test if you are in a group that is
at high risk for syphilis. This includes sex workers, men who have sex with men, or
adult prisoners. Also because syphilis can infect and even kill a developing baby,
all pregnant women should be screened to avoid passing the disease to the fetus.
What other tests might I have along with this test?
RPR is not specific to just syphilis. If your RPR test is positive, you will need
additional tests to confirm that you have syphilis. One of the most common tests used
to confirm a syphilis diagnosis is the T. pallidum enzyme immunoassay. Other tests
Fluorescent treponemal antibody absorption
Microhemagglutination test for antibodies to T. pallidum
T. pallidum particle agglutination assay
Tests for other STDs
These tests will generally rule out a false-positive result, which means your test
is positive even if you don't have syphilis. Your healthcare provider may also be
able to detect the syphilis bacteria by taking a sample from a moist sore and looking
at it under a microscope.
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 healthcare
A normal result is negative or nonreactive. This means you don't have syphilis. Positive
results are given as a ratio in titers, which tells your healthcare provider the amount
of antibodies in your blood.
Here are some general results:
If you have a history of syphilis and your RPR test is negative or nonreactive, it
is likely that you no longer have syphilis.
A positive RPR test should be followed by another type of test to diagnose syphilis.
If you have been treated for syphilis in the past, an RPR test that shows a titer
increase of fourfold means you likely have a new syphilis infection.
How is this test done?
The test requires a blood sample, which is drawn through a needle from a vein in your
Does this test pose any risks?
Taking a blood sample with a needle carries risks that include bleeding, infection,
bruising, or feeling dizzy. When the needle pricks your arm, you may feel a slight
stinging sensation or pain. Afterward, the site may be slightly sore.
What might affect my test results?
Your test results may be false-positive for many reasons. These include pregnancy,
IV drug use, tuberculosis, chronic liver disease, recent vaccines, or inflammation
of the heart lining or valves (endocarditis). You may also have a false-positive result
if you have one of a number of infections. These include rickettsial infections like
typhus or Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Your results may be false-negative if the test is done too soon after you are infected
with syphilis. It takes 14 to 21 days after infection with the spirochetes for your
body's immune response to be found by the test. Drinking alcohol within 24 hours of
the test also can give a false-negative result.
How do I get ready for this test?
You don't need to prepare for this test. But be sure your healthcare provider 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.