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Seronegative Doesn't Mean Disease-Free: What You Need to Know

Written by Portland Clinic of Natural Health on March 20, 2023

Seronegative is a term that is used to describe a person who has tested negative for a certain type of antibody. While this might be interpreted as meaning that the person is free of disease, this is not always the case. It is important to understand that seronegative does not necessarily mean free of disease.

The most common use of seronegative tests is to diagnose certain types of autoimmune diseases. For example, a seronegative test for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is used to determine if a person is free of the disease. However, it is possible for a person to have RA and still test seronegative. This is because the antibodies that the test is looking for may not be present in the body. (1)

In addition to autoimmune diseases, seronegative tests are also used to diagnose other conditions, such as HIV, Lyme disease, and certain types of cancer. Again, it is important to understand that a seronegative result does not necessarily mean that a person is free of disease. It is possible for a person to be infected with a particular condition and still test seronegative. (2)

Therefore, it is important to understand that seronegative does not always mean free of disease. (3) It is possible for a person to be infected with a disease and still test seronegative, so it is important to discuss any concerns with a healthcare provider.


  1. Paalanen K, Puolakka K, Nikiphorou E, Hannonen P, Sokka T. Is seronegative rheumatoid arthritis true rheumatoid arthritis? A nationwide cohort study. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2021 May 14;60(5):2391-2395. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/keaa623. Erratum in: Rheumatology (Oxford). 2021 May 14;60(5):2493-2494. PMID: 33175968; PMCID: PMC8121445.
  2. Chin BS, Lee SH, Kim GJ, Kee MK, Suh SD, Kim SS. Early identification of seronegative human immunodeficiency virus type 1 infection with severe presentation. J Clin Microbiol. 2007 May;45(5):1659-62. doi: 10.1128/JCM.00166-07. Epub 2007 Mar 7. PMID: 17344360; PMCID: PMC1865892.
  3. Burt T, Button KS, Thom H, Noveck RJ, Munafò MR. The Burden of the "False-Negatives" in Clinical Development: Analyses of Current and Alternative Scenarios and Corrective Measures. Clin Transl Sci. 2017 Nov;10(6):470-479. doi: 10.1111/cts.12478. Epub 2017 Jul 4. PMID: 28675646; PMCID: PMC6402187.

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