What Problems Can Strep Throat Cause?

Medically Reviewed by Robert Brennan on April 02, 2023
3 min read

Strep throat is an infection caused by group A Streptococcusbacteria. It can make your throat red, swollen, and sore. You can usually clear it up with antibiotics, but in rare instances, it can lead to more serious complications.

These can be related either to the infection itself or to the way your immune system responds.

Some of the people with a higher chance of getting a strep complication include:

  • Children with chickenpox
  • Those with weakened immune systems
  • Older folks with diabetes or cancer
  • Someone who has been burned

Most of the time, you can avoid complications if you get treated and follow your doctor’s instructions on how often and how long to take antibiotics.

The bacteria that cause strep throat can spread to other parts of your body if antibiotics don’t kill them. This can cause infections in places near your throat, including your:

There are other problems the bacteria can cause, too.

You may hear these called “invasive strep infections.” They include:
Infection of tissue underneath the skin: Fat and muscle can become infected with the strep bacteria. The formal name for this is necrotizing fasciitis, and you may hear it called the “flesh-eating disease.”

It’s life threatening, but strep throat very rarely leads to this condition -- less than 1 child in a million each year.

Blood infections: The strep bacteria can also get into your bloodstream, where they don’t normally live. This is called “bacteremia.”

If the strep bacteria release toxins in multiple organs, it can create another rare, life-threatening condition called “streptococcal toxic shock syndrome” that can cause organ failure.

Symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, fever, aches, pains, and chills. These signs are much more likely to point to a common case of the flu rather than toxic shock. But call your doctor right away if you have these symptoms.

Other problems: It can also lead to pneumonia as well as bone and joint infections.

  • Rheumatic fever: An inflammatory condition that can affect the heart, joints, nervous system, and skin. This is most often seen in children from 5 to 15. It causes high fever, joint pain, nosebleeds, and a rash as well as long-term symptoms. Fast treatment of a strep infection can prevent this fever.
  • Scarlet fever: You get a noticeable rash with this. Like rheumatic fever, it’s most common in children. The rash usually first appears on the neck, underarm, and groin area. From there, it spreads. Your child can take antibiotics for it. It can lead to long-term health problems if left untreated.
  • Inflammation of the kidneys: Its formal name is “poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis.” Usually, this goes away on its own. Taking antibiotics to treat strep doesn’t always prevent this complication.

Researchers are also looking at a possible connection between a complication called PANDAS (Pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with group A streptococci) and strep throat.

This term describes children with things such as obsessive compulsive disorder and tic disorder whose symptoms get worse after strep throat or scarlet fever.