FTA-ABS test

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The FTA-ABS test is a blood test to detect antibodies to the bacteria Treponema pallidum, which causes syphilis.

Alternative Names

Fluorescent treponemal antibody absorption test

How the Test is Performed

A blood sample is needed.

How to Prepare for the Test

No special preparation is necessary.

How the Test will Feel

When the needle is inserted to draw blood, some people feel moderate pain. Others feel only a prick or stinging. Afterward, there may be some throbbing or a slight bruise. This soon goes away.

Why the Test is Performed

This test is done routinely to confirm whether a positive screening test for syphilis (either

or ) means you have a current syphilis infection.

It may also be done when other syphilis tests are negative, to rule out a possible false-negative result.

Normal Results

A negative or nonreactive result means that you do not have a current or past infection with syphilis.

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Some labs use different measurements or test different samples. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

What Abnormal Results Mean

A positive FTA-ABS is often a sign of a syphilis infection. This test result will remain positive for life even if syphilis has been adequately treated. Therefore, it cannot be used to monitor the treatment of syphilis or determine that you have active syphilis.

Other illnesses, such as

and pinta (2 other kinds of skin diseases), may also result in positive FTA-ABS results. Sometimes, there can be a false-positive result, most often in women with .


Veins and arteries vary in size from one person to another and from one side of the body to the other. Obtaining a blood sample from some people may be more difficult than from others.

Other risks associated with having blood drawn are slight, but may include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fainting or feeling lightheaded
  • Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)


LaSala PR, Smith MB. Spirochete infections. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 59.

Radolf JD, Tramont EC, Salazar JC. Syphilis (Treponema pallidum). In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett’s Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 239.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 9/10/2015
  • 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, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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