The only way to find out if you have syphilis is to get tested.
Syphilis won't normally go away on its own and can cause serious problems if left undiagnosed and untreated.
Who should get tested for syphilis
You should get tested for syphilis if:
- you're worried you might have it
- a sexual partner has been diagnosed with syphilis
- you have symptoms of syphilis
It's particularly important to get tested in these cases if you've had sex without a condom (unprotected sex), you have multiple sexual partners, you're a man who has sex with men, or you've had sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the past.
Where to get a syphilis test
The best place to get tested for syphilis is a sexual health clinic (sometimes called a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic).
These clinics are staffed by healthcare professionals with special expertise in STIs. They tend to have easier access to the tests and treatments for syphilis than your local GP surgery.
You also don't have to pay for treatment if you go to a sexual health or GUM clinic. If you go to your GP surgery for treatment, you may have to pay a prescription charge.
You can go to your GP if you prefer, although they may refer you to a sexual health or GUM clinic if they suspect you might have an STI.
What the test for syphilis involves
You'll be asked about your sexual history, and whether you're experiencing any symptoms.
To diagnose syphilis, you'll usually have a:
- physical examination – a doctor or nurse will ask to examine your genitals (and inside the vagina for women) or other parts of your body to look for growths or rashes that may be caused by syphilis
- blood test – this can show whether you have syphilis or have had it in the past; repeating the test a few weeks later may be recommended if it's negative, in case it was too early to give an accurate result
- swab test – a swab (similar to a cotton bud) is used to take a small sample of fluid from any sores, so it can be checked for syphilis
You should also be tested for other STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea, as it's possible to have more than one STI at a time. Some results may be available the same day, while others may take a week or two to come back.
You should avoid having sex or close sexual contact with anyone else until you get your test results.
Read more about what happens at a sexual health clinic.
Screening for syphilis in pregnancy
All pregnant women are offered a blood test to check for syphilis, usually at around 8-12 weeks of pregnancy.
A syphilis infection during pregnancy can be very dangerous for the baby, but the screening test can help ensure it's detected and treated as soon as possible.
The test can be repeated if there's a risk you may have been exposed to syphilis later in your pregnancy.
Read more about screening for syphilis during pregnancy.