Thyroid Tests

 

What Is the Thyroid?

The thyroid is a small gland below the skin and muscles at the front of the neck, at the spot where a bow tie would rest. It makes two types of thyroid hormones: T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine). It helps the body do many things, such as get energy from food, grow, and go through sexual development.

The pituitary is a pea-sized gland at the bottom of the brain that makes thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH triggers the thyroid to make more thyroid hormone. The pituitary gland and the thyroid gland send messages back and forth to each other about how much hormone to make to keep the levels normal.

What Is Thyroid Disease?

Some diseases of the thyroid or pituitary gland cause the thyroid to make too much or too little thyroid hormone:

  • If the thyroid is overactive, it releases too much thyroid hormone, causing hyperthyroidism. The body use up energy more quickly than it should, and chemical activity (like metabolism) in the cells speeds up. Symptoms include sweating, trembling, weight loss, and fast heartbeat.
  • If the thyroid is underactive, it makes too little thyroid hormone, causing hypothyroidism. The body uses up energy more slowly, and chemical activity (metabolism) in the cells slows down. Symptoms include tiredness, feeling cold, constipation, dry skin, and slow height growth in children.

What Are Thyroid Blood Tests?

Doctors use blood tests to check for thyroid or pituitary problems. In kids already diagnosed with thyroid or pituitary problems, the tests are used to guide treatment.

Commonly ordered thyroid blood tests include:

  • T4 test: This is done to measure the blood level of the hormone T4 (thyroxine). It might be done in one or both of the following ways:
    total T4, which measures the entire amount of thyroxine in the blood, including the amount attached to blood proteins that help carry the hormone through the bloodstream
    free T4, which measures only the thyroxine that’s not attached to proteins. This is the part of T4 in the blood that affects how the body’s cells work.
    The results of the T4 blood tests can help diagnose hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism and guide treatment.
  • TSH test: A thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) test can help tell how well the thyroid is working. If a thyroid disease prevents the gland from making enough thyroid hormone, the pituitary gland releases more TSH into the blood. If the thyroid is making too much thyroid hormone, the pituitary releases less TSH, which can lower the levels of TSH in the blood.
  • T3 total test: The T3 total test measures the other major thyroid hormone in the blood. It’s particularly useful in diagnosing hyperthyroidism.
  • thyroid antibodies test: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an
    condition in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. To diagnose it, doctors check for high levels of antibodies that are a sign of the immune system’s attack on proteins in the thyroid gland. Usually, two types of thyroid antibodies are measured: thyroglobulin antibodies (TgAb) and thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO).

In some cases, abnormal thyroid test results can be due to a medicine, an ongoing medical condition, or pregnancy. In these cases, there may be nothing wrong with the thyroid or pituitary glands themselves.

The normal ranges of thyroid function test results vary by age. Doctors think about this carefully when they interpret them.

What if I Have Questions?

If you have any questions about a thyroid blood test, speak with your doctor. You can also talk to the technician who’s doing the blood draw before the procedure.

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Lipase Tests: MedlinePlus Lab Test Information

 

What is a lipase test?

Lipase is a type of protein made by your pancreas, an organ located near your stomach. Lipase helps your body digest fats. It’s normal to have a small amount of lipase in your blood. But, a high level of lipase can mean you have pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas, or another type of pancreas disease. Blood tests are the most common way of measuring lipase.

Other names: serum lipase, lipase, LPS

What is it used for?

A lipase test may be used to:

  • Diagnose pancreatitis or another disease of the pancreas
  • Find out if there is a blockage in your pancreas
  • Check for chronic diseases that affect the pancreas, including cystic fibrosis

Why do I need a lipase test?

You may need a lipase test if you have symptoms of a pancreas disease. These include:

You may also need a lipase test if you certain risk factors for pancreatitis. These include:

You may also be at a higher risk if you are a smoker or heavy alcohol user.

What happens during a lipase test?

A lipase test is usually in the form of a blood test. During a blood test, a health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.

Lipase can also be measured in urine. Usually, a lipase urine test can be taken at any time of day, with no special preparation needed.

Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?

You may need to fast (not eat or drink) for 8–12 hours before a lipase blood test. If your health care provider has ordered a lipase urine test, be sure to ask if you need to follow any special instructions.

Are there any risks to the test?

There is very little risk to having a blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.

There are no known risks to a urine test.

What do the results mean?

A high level of lipase may indicate:

A low level of lipase may mean there is damage to cells in the pancreas that make lipase. This happens in certain chronic diseases such as cystic fibrosis.

If your lipase levels are not normal, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a medical condition needing treatment. Certain medicines, including codeine and birth control pills, can affect your lipase results. If you have questions about your lipase test results, talk to your health care provider.

Is there anything else I need to know about a lipase test?

A lipase test is commonly used to diagnose pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can be acute or chronic. Acute pancreatitis is a short-term condition that usually goes away after a few days of treatment. Chronic pancreatitis is a long-lasting condition that gets worse over time. But it can be managed with medicine and lifestyle changes, such as quitting drinking. Your health care provider may also recommend surgery to repair the problem in your pancreas.

References

  1. Hinkle J, Cheever K. Brunner & Suddarth’s Handbook of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests. 2nd Ed, Kindle. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; c2014. Lipase, Serum; 358 p.
  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine [Internet]. Johns Hopkins Medicine; Health Library: Chronic Pancreatitis [cited 2017 Dec 16]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/adult/digestive_disorders/chronic_pancreatitis_22,chronicpancreatitis
  3. Junglee D, Penketh A, Katrak A, Hodson ME, Batten JC, Dandona P. Serum pancreatic lipase activity in cystic fibrosis. Br Med J [Internet]. 1983 May 28 [cited 2017 Dec 16]; 286(6379):1693–4. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1548188/pdf/bmjcred00555-0017.pdf
  4. Lab Tests Online [Internet]. Washington D.C.; American Association for Clinical Chemistry; c2001–2018. Lipase [updated 2018 Jan 15; cited 2018 Feb 20]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://labtestsonline.org/tests/lipase
  5. Lab Tests Online [Internet]. Washington D.C.; American Association for Clinical Chemistry; c2001–2018. Glossary: Random Urine Sample [cited 2017 Dec 16]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://labtestsonline.org/glossary#r
  6. Mayo Clinic: Mayo Medical Laboratories [Internet]. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; c1995–2017. Test ID: FLIPR: Lipase, Random Urine: Specimen [cited 2017 Dec 16]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.mayomedicallaboratories.com/test-catalog/Specimen/90347
  7. National Cancer Institute [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms: pancreas [cited 2017 Dec 16]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms?cdrid=46254
  8. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Blood Tests [cited 2018 Feb 20]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/blood-tests
  9. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Definitions & Facts for Pancreatitis; 2017 Nov [cited 2017 Dec 16]; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/pancreatitis/definition-facts
  10. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Treatment for Pancreatitis; 2017 Nov [cited 2017 Dec 16]; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/pancreatitis/treatment
  11. University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Rochester (NY): University of Rochester Medical Center; c2017. Health Encyclopedia: Lipase [cited 2017 Dec 16]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=167&contentid=lipase
  12. University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Rochester (NY): University of Rochester Medical Center; c2017. Health Encyclopedia: Microscopic Urinalysis [cited 2017 Dec 16]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=167&contentid=urinanalysis_microscopic_exam
  13. UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2017. Health Information: Lipase: Test Overview [updated 2017 Oct 9; cited 2017 Dec 16]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/medicaltest/lipase/hw7976.html
  14. UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2017. Health Information: Lipase: Why It Is Done [updated 2017 Oct 9; cited 2017 Dec 16]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/medicaltest/lipase/hw7976.html#hw7984

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Syphilis Tests: MedlinePlus Lab Test Information

 

What are syphilis tests?

Syphilis is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It is a bacterial infection spread through vaginal, oral, or anal sex with an infected person. Syphilis develops in stages that can last for weeks, months, or even years. The stages may be separated by long periods of apparent good health.

Syphilis usually starts with a small, painless sore, called a chancre, on the genitals, anus, or mouth. In the next stage, you may have flu-like symptoms and/or a rash. Later stages of syphilis can damage the brain, heart, spinal cord, and other organs. Syphilis tests can help diagnose syphilis in the early stages of infection, when the disease is easiest to treat.

Other names: rapid plasma reagin (RPR), venereal disease Research laboratory (VDRL), fluorescent treponemal antibody absorption (FTA-ABS) test, agglutination assay (TPPA), darkfield microscopy

What are they used for?

Syphilis tests are used to screen for and diagnose syphilis.

Screening tests for syphilis include:

  • Rapid plasma reagin (RPR), a syphilis blood test that looks for antibodies to the syphilis bacteria. Antibodies are proteins made by the immune system to fight foreign substances, such as bacteria.
  • Venereal disease research laboratory (VDRL) test, which also checks for syphilis antibodies. A VDRL test can be done on blood or spinal fluid.

If a screening test comes back positive, you will need more testing to rule out or confirm a syphilis diagnosis. Most of these follow up tests will also look for syphilis antibodies. Sometimes, a healthcare provider will use a test that looks for actual syphilis bacteria, instead of the antibodies. Tests that look for the actual bacteria are used less often because they can only be done in specialized labs by specially trained health care professionals.

Why do I need a syphilis test?

You may need a syphilis test if your sexual partner has been diagnosed with syphilis and/or you have symptoms of the disease. Symptoms usually appear about two to three weeks after infection and include:

  • Small, painless sore (chancre) on the genitals, anus, or mouth
  • Rough, red rash, usually on the palms of the hands or the bottom of the feet
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Swollen glands
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Hair loss

Even if you don’t have symptoms, you may need a test if you are at a higher risk of infection. Risk factors include having:

  • Multiple sex partners
  • A partner with multiple sex partners
  • Unprotected sex (sex without using a condom)
  • An HIV/AIDS infection
  • Another sexually transmitted disease, such as gonorrhea

You may also need this test if you are pregnant. Syphilis can be passed from a mother to her unborn baby. A syphilis infection can cause serious, and sometimes deadly, complications to infants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all pregnant women get tested early in pregnancy. Women who have risk factors for syphilis should be tested again in the third trimester of pregnancy (28–32 weeks) and again at delivery.

What happens during a syphilis test?

A syphilis test is usually in the form of a blood test. During a syphilis blood test, a health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.

More advanced stages of syphilis can affect the brain and spinal cord. If your symptoms show your disease might be in a more advanced stage, your health care provider may order a syphilis test on your cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF is a clear liquid found in your brain and spinal cord.

For this test, your CSF will be collected through a procedure called a lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap. During the procedure:

  • You will lie on your side or sit on an exam table.
  • A health care provider will clean your back and inject an anesthetic into your skin, so you won’t feel pain during the procedure. Your provider may put a numbing cream on your back before this injection.
  • Once the area on your back is completely numb, your provider will insert a thin, hollow needle between two vertebrae in your lower spine. Vertebrae are the small backbones that make up your spine.
  • Your provider will withdraw a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid for testing. This will take about five minutes.
  • You’ll need to stay very still while the fluid is being withdrawn.
  • Your provider may ask you to lie on your back for an hour or two after the procedure. This may prevent you from getting a headache afterward.

Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?

You don’t need any special preparations for a syphilis blood test. For a lumbar puncture, you may be asked to empty your bladder and bowels before the test.

Are there any risks to the test?

There is very little risk to having a blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.

If you had a lumbar puncture, you may have pain or tenderness in your back where the needle was inserted. You may also get a headache after the procedure.

What do the results mean?

If your screening results were negative or normal, it means no syphilis infection was found. Since antibodies can take a couple of weeks to develop in response to a bacterial infection, you may need another screening test if you think you were exposed to the infection. Ask your health care provider about when or if you need to be re-tested.

If your screening tests show a positive result, you will have more testing to rule out or confirm a syphilis diagnosis. If these tests confirm you have syphilis, you will probably be treated with penicillin, a type of antibiotic. Most early-stage syphilis infections are completely cured after antibiotic treatment. Later-stage syphilis is also treated with antibiotics. Antibiotic treatment for later-stage infections can stop the disease from getting worse, but it can’t undo damage already done.

If you have questions about your results, or about syphilis, talk to your health care provider.

Is there anything else I need to know about syphilis tests?

If you are diagnosed with syphilis, you need to tell your sexual partner, so he or she can get tested and treated if necessary.

References

  1. American Pregnancy Association [Internet]. Irving (TX): American Pregnancy Association; c2018. Syphilis [updated 2018 Feb 7; cited 2018 Mar 29]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: http://americanpregnancy.org/womens-health/syphilis
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet]. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Syphilis: CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed) [updated 2017 Feb 13; cited 2018 Mar 29]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/stdfact-syphilis-detailed.htm
  3. Lab Tests Online [Internet]. Washington D.C.: American Association for Clinical Chemistry; c2001–2018. Syphilis Tests [updated 2018 Mar 29; cited 2018 Mar 29]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://labtestsonline.org/tests/syphilis-tests
  4. Mayo Clinic [Internet]. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; c1998–2018. Lumbar puncture (spinal tap): Overview; 2018 Mar 22 [cited 2018 Mar 29]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/lumbar-puncture/about/pac-20394631
  5. Mayo Clinic [Internet]. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; c1998–2018. Syphilis: Diagnosis and treatment; 2018 Jan 10 [cited 2018 Mar 29]; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/syphilis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20351762
  6. Mayo Clinic [Internet]. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; c1998–2018. Syphilis: Symptoms and causes; 2018 Jan 10 [cited 2018 Mar 29]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/syphilis/symptoms-causes/syc-20351756
  7. Merck Manual Consumer Version [Internet]. Kenilworth (NJ): Merck & Co., Inc.; c2018. Syphilis [cited 2018 Mar 29]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/infections/sexually-transmitted-diseases-stds/syphilis
  8. Merck Manual Consumer Version [Internet]. Kenilworth (NJ): Merck & Co., Inc.; c2018. Tests for Brain, Spinal Cord, and Nerve Disorders [cited 2018 Mar 29]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders/diagnosis-of-brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders/tests-for-brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders
  9. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Blood Tests [cited 2018 Mar 29]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/blood-tests
  10. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Syphilis [cited 2018 Mar 29]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.niaid.nih.gov/diseases-conditions/syphilis
  11. Tsang RSW, Radons SM, Morshed M. Laboratory diagnosis of syphilis: A survey to examine the range of tests used in Canada. Can J Infect Dis Med Microbiol [Internet]. 2011 [cited 2018 Apr 10]; 22(3): 83–87. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3200370
  12. UF Health: University of Florida Health [Internet]. University of Florida; c2018. Syphilis: Overview [updated 2018 Mar 29; cited 2018 Mar 29]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://ufhealth.org/syphilis
  13. University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Rochester (NY): University of Rochester Medical Center; c2018. Health Encyclopedia: Rapid Plasma Reagin [cited 2018 Mar 29]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=167&contentid=rapid_plasma_reagin_syphilis
  14. University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Rochester (NY): University of Rochester Medical Center; c2018. Health Encyclopedia: VDRL (CSF) [cited 2018 Mar 29]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=167&contentid=vdrl_csf
  15. UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2018. Syphilis Tests: Results [updated 2017 Mar 20; cited 2018 Mar 29]; [about 8 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/medicaltest/syphilis-tests/hw5839.html#hw5874
  16. UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2018. Syphilis Tests: Test Overview [updated 2017 Mar 20; cited 2018 Mar 29]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/medicaltest/syphilis-tests/hw5839.html
  17. UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2018. Syphilis Tests: Why It is Done [updated 2017 Mar 20; cited 2018 Mar 29]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/medicaltest/syphilis-tests/hw5839.html#hw5852

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Porphyrin Tests: MedlinePlus Lab Test Information

 

What are porphyrin tests?

Porphyrin tests measure the level of porphyrins in your blood, urine, or stool. Porphyrins are chemicals that help make hemoglobin, a type of protein in your red blood cells. Hemoglobin carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body.

It’s normal to have a small amount of porphyrins in your blood and other body fluids. But too much porphyrin may mean you have a type of porphyria. Porphyria is a rare disorder that can cause serious health problems. Porphyria is usually divided into two categories:

  • Acute porphyrias, which mainly affect the nervous system and causes abdominal symptoms
  • Cutaneous porphyrias, which cause skin symptoms when you are exposed to sunlight

Some porphyrias affect both the nervous system and the skin.

Other names: protoporphyrin; protoporphyrin, blood; protoporhyrin, stool; porphyrins, feces; uroporphyrin; porphyrins, urine; Mauzerall-Granick test; acid; ALA; porphobilinogen; PBG; free erythrocyte protoporphyrin; fractionated erythrocyte porphyrins; FEP

What are they used for?

Porphyrin tests are used to diagnose or monitor porphyria.

Why do I need a porphyrin test?

You may need a porphyrin test if you have symptoms of porphyria. There are different symptoms for the different types of porphyria.

Symptoms of acute porphyria include:

Symptoms of cutaneous porphyria include:

You may also need a porphyrin test if someone in your family has porphyria. Most types of porphyria are inherited, meaning the condition is passed from parent to child.

What happens during porphyrin testing?

Porphyrins can be tested in blood, urine, or stool. The most common types of porphyrin tests are listed below.

  • Blood Test
    • A health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.
  • 24-Hour Urine Sample
    • You will collect all your urine during a 24-hour period. For this test, your health care provider or laboratory will give you a container and specific instructions on how to collect your samples at home. Be sure to follow all instructions carefully. This 24-hour urine sample test is used because the amounts of substances in urine, including porphyrin, can vary throughout the day. So collecting several samples in a day may give a more accurate picture of your urine content.
  • Random Urine Test
    • You can provide your sample at any time of day, with no special preparations or handling needed. This test is often done in a health care provider’s office or a lab.
  • Stool Test (also called protoporphyrin in stool)
    • You will collect a sample of your stool and place it in a special container. Your health care provider will give you instructions on how to prepare your sample and send it to a lab.

Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?

You don’t need any special preparations for blood or urine tests.

For a stool test, you may be instructed to not eat meat or take any aspirin-containing medicines for three days prior to your test.

Are there any risks to porphyrin tests?

There is very little risk to having a blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.

There are no known risks to urine or stool tests.

What do the results mean?

If high levels of porphyrin are found in your blood, urine, or stool, your health care provider will probably order more tests to confirm a diagnosis and to find out what kind of porphyria you have. While there is no cure for porphyria, the condition can be managed. Certain lifestyle changes and/or medicines can help prevent the symptoms and complications of the disease. Specific treatment depends on the type of porphyria you have. If you have questions about your results or about porphyria, talk to your health care provider.

Is there anything else I need to know about porphyrin tests?

While most types of porphyria are inherited, other types porphyria can also be acquired. Acquired porphyria can be caused by a variety of factors, including overexposure to lead, HIV, hepatitis C, excess iron intake, and/or heavy alcohol use.

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Lyme Disease Tests: MedlinePlus Lab Test Information

 

What are Lyme disease tests?

Lyme disease is an infection caused by bacteria carried by ticks. Lyme disease tests look for signs of infection in your blood or cerebrospinal fluid.

You can get Lyme disease if an infected tick bites you. Ticks can bite you anywhere on your body, but they usually bite in hard-to-see parts of your body such as the groin, scalp, and armpits. The ticks that cause Lyme disease are tiny, as small as a speck of dirt. So you may not know you have been bitten.

If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause serious health problems affecting your joints, heart, and nervous system. But if diagnosed early, most cases of Lyme disease can be cured after a few weeks of treatment with antibiotics.

Other names: Lyme antibodies detection, Borrelia burgdorferi antibodies test, Borrelia DNA Detection, IgM/IgG by Western Blot, Lyme disease test (CSF), Borrelia antibodies, IgM/IgG

What are they used for?

Lyme disease tests are used to find out if you have a Lyme disease infection.

Why do I need a Lyme disease test?

You may need a Lyme disease test if you have symptoms of infection. The first symptoms of Lyme disease usually show up between three and 30 days after the tick bite. They may include:

You may also need a Lyme disease test if you don’t have symptoms, but are at risk for infection. You may be at a higher risk if you:

  • Recently removed a tick from your body
  • Walked in a heavily wooded area, where ticks live, without covering exposed skin or wearing repellent
  • Have done either of the above activities and live in or have recently visited the northeast or midwestern areas of the United States, where most Lyme disease cases occur

Lyme disease is most treatable in its early stages, but you may still benefit from testing later on. Symptoms that may show up weeks or months after the tick bite. They may include:

  • Severe headache
  • Neck stiffness
  • Severe joint pain and swelling
  • Shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Memory and sleep disorders

What happens during Lyme disease testing?

Lyme disease testing is usually done with your blood or cerebrospinal fluid.

For a Lyme disease blood test:

  • A health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.

If you have symptoms of Lyme disease affecting your nervous system, such as neck stiffness and numbness in hands or feet, you may need a test of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF is a clear liquid found in your brain and spinal cord. During this test, your CSF will be collected through a procedure called a lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap. During the procedure:

  • You will lie on your side or sit on an exam table.
  • A health care provider will clean your back and inject an anesthetic into your skin, so you won’t feel pain during the procedure. Your provider may put a numbing cream on your back before this injection.
  • Once the area on your back is completely numb, your provider will insert a thin, hollow needle between two vertebrae in your lower spine. Vertebrae are the small backbones that make up your spine.
  • Your provider will withdraw a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid for testing. This will take about five minutes.
  • You’ll need to stay very still while the fluid is being withdrawn.
  • Your provider may ask you to lie on your back for an hour or two after the procedure. This may prevent you from getting a headache afterward.

Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?

You don’t need any special preparations for a Lyme disease blood test.

For a lumbar puncture, you may be asked to empty your bladder and bowels before the test.

Are there any risks to Lyme disease tests?

There is very little risk to having a blood test or a lumbar puncture. If you had a blood test, you may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly. If you had a lumbar puncture, you may have pain or tenderness in your back where the needle was inserted. You may also get a headache after the procedure.

What do the results mean?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a two-test process of your sample:

  • If your first test result is negative for Lyme disease, you don’t need any more testing.
  • If your first result is positive for Lyme disease, your blood will get a second test.
  • If both results are positive for Lyme disease and you also have symptoms of infection, you probably have Lyme disease.

Positive results don’t always mean a Lyme disease diagnosis. In some cases, you can have a positive result but not have an infection. Positive results may also mean you have an autoimmune disease, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.

If your lumbar puncture results are positive, it may mean you have Lyme disease, but you might need more tests to confirm a diagnosis.

If your health care provider thinks you have Lyme disease, he or she will prescribe antibiotic treatment. Most people who are treated with antibiotics in the early stage of disease will make a complete recovery.

Is there anything else I need to know about Lyme disease tests?

You can reduce your chances of getting Lyme disease by taking the following steps:

  • Avoid walking in wooded areas with high grass.
  • Walk in the center of trails.
  • Wear long pants and tuck them into your boots or socks.
  • Apply an insect repellent containing DEET to your skin and clothing.

References

  1. ALDF: American Lyme Disease Foundation [Internet]. Lyme (CT): American Lyme Disease Foundation, Inc.; c2015. Lyme Disease [updated 2017 Dec 27; cited 2017 Dec 28]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: http://www.aldf.com/lyme-disease
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