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Strep Throat - Exams and Tests

Strep throat is diagnosed from your medical history, a physical exam of your throat, and a lab test, such as a throat culture. Sometimes a rapid strep test is used to check for strep. Your doctor may confirm the results of the rapid strep test with a throat culture.

Current treatment guidelines recommend that your doctor confirm strep throat with a lab test, such as a throat culture, and not diagnose strep throat just from your symptoms. But your doctor may begin treatment for strep throat before the result of your throat culture is back if you have three or four of the following symptoms:

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  • A recent fever of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher
  • White or yellow spots or coating on the throat or tonsils
  • Swollen or tender lymph nodes on the neck
  • Absence of signs of a cold or upper respiratory infection, such as coughing or sneezing

One or both of the following tests are used to confirm that you have strep throat.

  • Rapid strep test analyzes the bacteria in your throat to see if strep is the cause of your sore throat. The doctor uses a cotton swab to gather cells from the back of your throat for testing.
  • Throat culture is also a test that analyzes cells from the back of your throat. The cells are gathered with a cotton swab and then placed in a container with substances that promote the growth of strep bacteria. If the strep bacteria grow, the culture is positive. If strep bacteria do not grow, the culture is negative.

If symptoms of strep throat are present, it is important to be tested for strep infection. Prompt treatment will reduce the spread of strep throat and may reduce the risk of complications, such as the infection spreading to other parts of your body causing ear or sinus infections or an abscess behind or around your tonsils (peritonsillar abscess).

If you need to be tested for strep throat, the choice between a rapid strep test and a throat culture may not be clear. It may help to discuss with your doctor the advantages and disadvantages of each test. For instance, results from a rapid strep test are available within 10 to 15 minutes, and results from a throat culture may take 1 to 2 days. A throat culture is more accurate.

  • A negative rapid strep test result can mean there are no strep bacteria present. But the rapid strep test can give negative results even when strep bacteria are present (false-negative test results). If the rapid strep test result is negative but strep throat is still suspected, your doctor may order a throat culture to verify the results.
  • If the rapid strep test result is positive, a throat culture isn't needed. Antibiotic treatment can be started right away. Antibiotics may not make you well faster. But they shorten the time you are able to spread the disease to others. Antibiotics also lower the risk of spreading the infection to other parts of your body.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 01, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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