Strep Test - Reasons to Get One, What to Expect, Associated Risks & More (2024)

Key Points

  • The article explains why a doctor might recommend a strep test, typically when symptoms like fever, severe sore throat, and spots on the throat or tonsils are present.
  • Strep throat, caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria, is highly contagious and can lead to serious complications like pneumonia or meningitis if not treated.
  • Sore throats are common, but most are due to viral infections that don't need antibiotics. A strep test is necessary to confirm a bacterial infection before prescribing antibiotics.
  • Two types of strep tests are discussed: a rapid strep test, which gives results in 10 to 20 minutes, and a throat culture test, which is more accurate and takes two to three days for results.
  • The article details the strep test procedure and what to expect if the test is positive or negative, assuring that there are no known risks associated with the test, though it may be uncomfortable.


  • Reasons Why You Would Need a Strep Test
  • Understanding a Strep Test
  • Risks of a Strep Test
  • What to Expect With a Strep Test
  • Questions to Ask Your Doctor About a Strep Test
  • Strep Test May Also Be Known as
  • Sources
  • Frequently Asked Questions

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?

Strep Test May Also Be Known as

  • Rapid strep test
  • Throat culture

Frequently asked questions

  • Why would a doctor recommend a strep test?

    A doctor would recommend a strep test when symptoms such as fever, severe sore throat, and spots on the throat or tonsils are present, as these could indicate a bacterial infection like strep throat.

  • What is strep throat?

    Strep throat is a highly contagious bacterial infection caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria. If left untreated, it can lead to serious complications like pneumonia or meningitis.

  • Why is a strep test necessary if I have a sore throat?

    A strep test is necessary to confirm if your sore throat is due to a bacterial infection, which requires antibiotics for treatment. Most sore throats are caused by viral infections that don't require antibiotics.

  • What types of strep tests are there?

    There are two types of strep tests: a rapid strep test that provides results in 10 to 20 minutes, and a throat culture test that is sent to a lab and provides highly accurate results in two to three days.

  • Are there any risks associated with a strep test?

    No, there are no known risks associated with a strep test. However, the test might be uncomfortable.

  • What should I expect if the strep test is positive?

    If the strep test is positive, it means you have a bacterial infection and your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics for treatment.

  • What does a negative strep test result mean?

    A negative strep test result means that your sore throat is likely due to a viral infection, not a bacterial one, and antibiotics are not required for treatment.

  • What questions should I ask my doctor about a strep test?

    You should ask about the procedure, what to expect during and after the test, the accuracy of the test, and what the possible results mean for your treatment.


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Strep Test - Reasons to Get One, What to Expect, Associated Risks & More (2024)


What to expect when getting a strep test? ›

Using a clean, soft cotton swab, they'll lightly brush over the back of the throat, around the tonsils, and over any red or sore areas to collect a sample. Sometimes, they use two swabs so the second swab can be sent for a throat culture if the rapid strep test results are negative.

What are risk factors for streptococcus? ›

Several factors can increase your risk of strep throat infection:
  • Young age. Strep throat occurs most commonly in children.
  • Time of year. Although strep throat can occur anytime, it tends to circulate in winter and early spring. Strep bacteria flourish wherever groups of people are in close contact.

What are the risk of complications with strep throat? ›

Caused by the group A streptococcus bacteria, strep throat is an infection that requires prompt treatment, particularly in children over the age of 3. Left untreated, strep throat can lead to kidney inflammation or rheumatic fever, a serious illness that can cause stroke and permanent damage to the heart.

What is the diagnosis for a positive strep test? ›

A positive strep screen most often means group A streptococcus is present and confirms that you have strep throat. Sometimes, the test may be positive even if you do not have strep.

Can a strep throat test detect anything else? ›

A throat culture or strep test is done by using a throat swab to detect the presence of group A streptococcus bacteria, the most common cause of strep throat. These bacteria also can cause other infections (including scarlet fever, abscesses, and pneumonia).

What are four symptoms of strep throat? ›

If you have strep throat, your throat and tonsils may appear red, sore and swollen. You may also have white patches, spots or streaks of pus on your throat and tonsils. In addition, you may develop tiny, red spots on the roof of your mouth called petechiae.

What increases risk of strep throat? ›

Close contact with another person with strep throat is the most common risk factor for illness. For example, if someone has strep throat, the bacteria often spread to other people in their household.

What conditions are usually associated with streptococcus? ›

About group A streptococcal infection

GAS is also known as Group A Strep, Strep A and Streptococcus pyogenes. Commonly, it causes throat infection (pharyngitis), tonsil infection (tonsillitis), scarlet fever, skin sores (impetigo) and skin infection (cellulitis).

What is the most serious infection caused by streptococci? ›

Two of the most severe, but least common, forms of invasive GAS disease are called necrotizing fasciitis (infection of muscle and fat tissue) and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (a rapidly progressing infection causing low blood pressure/shock and injury to organs such as the kidneys, liver and lungs).

Can strep throat lead to sepsis? ›

Though rare, untreated cases of strep throat can cause serious complications, including sepsis. Sepsis can cause long-term tissue damage and organ failure if left unmanaged. Strep throat is a relatively common condition, but it can have serious health effects if left untreated.

Can strep throat turn into meningitis? ›

Numerous Streptococcus bacteria can cause meningitis. The most significant one is Streptococcus pneumoniae, probably the leading etiologic agent of meningitis worldwide, both in adults and children.

Can strep throat turn into pneumonia? ›

As we've established, bacteria from strep can cause pneumonia if it gets into your lungs and airways. Pneumonia can cause an array of symptoms that vary in severity including fever, shortness of breath, chest pain, and joint pain.

What are the 4 strep criteria? ›

The four components of the Centor Criteria are: fever, tonsillar exudate, anterior cervical lymphadenopathy, and absence of cough.

What is a common misdiagnosis of strep throat? ›

Sometimes viral illnesses cause a sore throat that may be mistaken for strep throat. These include common cold viruses, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), influenza (the "flu"), croup, mononucleosis (“mono”), measles, and chickenpox.

What does abnormal mean on a strep test? ›

Abnormal. An abnormal or positive strep test means that strep bacteria are present. Antibiotic treatment can be started. A positive test result does not distinguish those people with an active strep infection from those who are carriers of strep bacteria but actually have a viral infection (rather than a bacterial one) ...

How do you prepare for a strep test? ›

A rapid screen strep test is simple and can be done in your doctor's office. You should avoid using mouthwash before the test because it can interfere with results. Otherwise, you don't need to prepare. Your doctor will examine your mouth to check for red, swollen areas or other signs of infection.

Can I go to work with strep throat? ›

If you are diagnosed with strep throat, you should stay home from work, school, or daycare until you no longer have a fever and have taken antibiotics for at least 24 hours.

Can strep go away without antibiotics? ›

Strep throat typically goes away in three to seven days with or without antibiotic treatment. However, if you don't take antibiotics, you can remain contagious for two to three weeks and are at a higher risk for complications, such as rheumatic fever.

Is it worth getting a strep test? ›

Doctors perform strep tests because the symptoms of strep throat can be similar to those of other conditions, including viral infections. Only bacterial infections, such as strep throat, will respond to antibiotics.

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