Strep Test
Reasons to Get One, What to Expect, Associated Risks & More

Strep Test May Also Be Known as:

  • Rapid strep test
  • Throat culture



Reasons Why You Would Need a Strep Test

Your doctor might perform a strep test if they suspect you have strep throat. Symptoms of strep throat typically include a fever and severe sore throat. You might also notice white, yellow, or red spots on your throat or tonsils. Your glands might be swollen, and you may develop a rash.[1]

Strep throat is a highly contagious infection caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria.[1] It’s common among children and can spread quickly through a school or daycare setting. Strep throat often requires antibiotics. Left untreated, strep throat can sometimes cause serious complications such as pneumonia or meningitis.[2]

It’s important to understand that sore throats are very common, especially among school-aged children. Most sore throats are caused by viral infections that clear up on their own.[3] Viral infections do not require antibiotics. Before prescribing antibiotics, your doctor can perform a strep test to confirm that you have a bacterial infection.

Understanding a Strep Test

Two tests can help your doctor diagnose strep throat. Your doctor may choose to perform one or both of these tests.

A rapid strep test can be performed in the doctor’s office. Your doctor swabs your throat and then tests the sample for the presence of group A Streptococcus bacteria. Rapid strep test results are usually available in 10 to 20 minutes.[4] Your doctor might have you wait in their office to receive your results. If the test is positive, your doctor will typically prescribe antibiotics.[4]

A rapid strep test can be useful for diagnosing strep, but it sometimes produces a false negative.[4] If your test is negative, but your doctor still suspects strep, they might perform a throat culture.

With a throat culture test, your doctor swabs your throat and sends the sample to a lab for study. This test can take two to three days but provides highly accurate results.[5] In most cases, your doctor’s office will call you after a few days to give you the results of your throat culture.

Risks of a Strep Test

There are no known risks associated with a strep test. The test might be uncomfortable, especially for small children, but the test does not cause any health risks or complications.

What to Expect With a Strep Test

During a strep test, your doctor will have you open your mouth as wide as possible. The doctor might use a tongue depressor to allow for a clear path to your throat or tonsils. Your doctor will use a sterilized cotton swab and rub it lightly over the back of your throat, your tonsils, or any areas that look inflamed.[5]

This test is usually not painful, but it might cause you to gag. If your throat is very sore, the swab can feel uncomfortable, but any discomfort usually passes after the test is over.[6]

It’s important to stay as still as possible during the test. If a young child needs a strep test, it might be helpful for their parent to hold them on their lap to help the child remain still.[4]

If you receive a rapid strep test, your doctor usually provides your results and any follow-up instructions while you are still in the office. If your doctor performs a throat culture, you might not receive your results for a few days.[6] Ask your doctor when you will receive your results and what will happen if the test is positive for strep.

If you test positive for strep, your doctor will most likely prescribe antibiotics.[1] If your test is negative, this usually means that your sore throat is caused by a viral infection and will clear on its own.[7] Ask your doctor what you should do if your symptoms do not go away or become worse. Your doctor might recommend that you schedule a follow-up appointment to confirm that your infection has cleared up.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About a Strep Test

  • When will I receive the results?
  • What treatment will be recommended if my test is positive?
  • How can I treat my symptoms at home?
  • How soon can I expect to feel better?
  • If my illness is contagious, when can I return to school or work?
  • What should I do if other family members develop similar symptoms?

Sources

  1. Center for Disease Control. Strep throat. https://www.cdc.gov/groupastrep/diseases-public/strep-throat.html
  2. MedicineNet. What are the possible complications of strep throat? https://www.medicinenet.com/strep_throat_complications/views.htm
  3. Mayo Clinic. Strep throat. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/strep-throat/symptoms-causes/syc-20350338
  4. KidsHealth. Strep test: rapid. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/test-rapid-strep.html
  5. Healthline. Throat Swab Culture. https://www.healthline.com/health/throat-swab-culture
  6. Mayo Clinic. Strep throat: Diagnosis & treatment. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/strep-throat/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350344
  7. American Associaition for Clinical Chemistry. Strep Throat Test. https://labtestsonline.org/tests/strep-throat-test

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