What Happens If Strep Throat Goes Untreated?

By Kendra Reed

Updated On

Strep throat is a common bacterial infection that causes a sore, scratchy throat and flu-like symptoms. While it can often be treated effectively with antibiotics, neglecting to address strep throat can lead to serious complications. In this article, we’ll explore what happens when strep throat goes untreated and why seeking prompt medical attention is crucial for your health.

Key Takeaways

  1. Untreated strep throat can lead to severe symptoms and spread the infection to other parts of the body.
  2. Complications of untreated strep throat include rheumatic fever, scarlet fever, and kidney inflammation.
  3. Long-term effects of untreated strep throat can include recurring infections, weakened immunity, and chronic health issues.

Symptoms Of Untreated Strep Throat

When strep throat is left untreated, the initial symptoms can worsen and become more severe. Patients may experience:

  • High fever (101°F or higher)
  • Intense throat pain and difficulty swallowing
  • Swollen and tender lymph nodes in the neck
  • White patches or streaks of pus on the tonsils
  • Bright red skin rash (in cases of scarlet fever)

Untreated strep throat can also allow the infection to spread beyond the throat. The bacteria can travel to the tonsils, and sinuses, and even enter the bloodstream. This can lead to more serious infections and complications throughout the body.

Potential Complications

When strep throat goes untreated, it can lead to several potentially serious complications:

1. Rheumatic Fever

Rheumatic fever is a rare but severe complication of untreated strep throat. It occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues, particularly in the heart, joints, skin, and brain. Symptoms include fever, joint pain, chest pain, and a rash. Rheumatic fever can cause permanent damage to the heart valves, leading to long-term heart problems.

2. Scarlet Fever

Scarlet fever is another complication of untreated strep throat, characterized by a bright red rash that feels like sandpaper. It typically begins on the neck and chest and spreads to the rest of the body. Scarlet fever can cause high fever, chills, and a flushed face. In severe cases, it can lead to more serious complications like pneumonia or meningitis.

3. Kidney Inflammation

Untreated strep throat can also lead to a condition called post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis (PSGN), which is inflammation of the kidneys. Symptoms include blood in the urine, swelling in the face and limbs, and high blood pressure. PSGN can cause long-term kidney damage if not properly treated.

Other Potential Complications Of Untreated Strep Throat Include:

  • Sinus infections
  • Ear infections
  • Peritonsillar abscess: A buildup of pus located behind the tonsils.
  • Meningitis: Inflammation affecting the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.

Long-Term Effects

In addition to the immediate complications, untreated strep throat can also have long-term effects on your health:

1. Recurring Infections

When strep throat is not properly treated, the bacteria can remain in the body and cause recurring infections. Patients may experience frequent episodes of strep throat or other respiratory infections, which can be frustrating and disruptive to daily life.

2. Weakened Immune System

Repeated strep throat infections can weaken the body’s immune system over time. This can make individuals more susceptible to other illnesses and infections, as their natural defenses are compromised.

3. Chronic Health Issues

In rare cases, untreated strep throat can lead to more serious, long-term health problems. These include:

  • Rheumatic heart disease results in enduring harm to the heart valves.
  • Reactive arthritis (joint pain and inflammation triggered by infection)
  • Pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections (PANDAS), which can cause sudden onset of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or tic disorders in children

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) underlines the importance of prompt treatment for strep throat, stating, “Serious complications can occur if strep throat is not treated properly. These complications can include rheumatic fever, kidney disease, and other infections.”

Conclusion

Strep throat may seem like a common, easily treatable infection, but neglecting to address it can have serious consequences. Untreated strep throat can lead to severe symptoms, spread the infection to other parts of the body, and cause potentially life-threatening complications. It can also result in long-term health issues, such as recurring infections and chronic conditions.

If you suspect that you or your child has strep throat, it’s essential to seek medical attention promptly. Your healthcare provider can perform a rapid strep test or throat culture to confirm the diagnosis and prescribe appropriate antibiotic treatment. Early intervention is key to preventing complications and ensuring a full recovery.

Remember, your health is in your hands. Don’t ignore the signs of strep throat or delay seeking treatment. By taking proactive steps to address this common infection, you can protect your well-being and avoid the risks associated with untreated strep throat.

FAQ

1. How long does it take for strep throat to go away without treatment?

Strep throat symptoms can last anywhere from 7 to 10 days without treatment. However, it’s important to note that even if symptoms improve on their own, the bacterial infection can still cause complications if not properly treated with antibiotics.

2. Can you get strep throat more than once?

Yes, it is possible to get strep throat more than once. Some people may be more susceptible to recurring strep throat infections, particularly if they have a weakened immune system or are exposed to the bacteria frequently (e.g., in crowded living conditions).

3. How long is strep throat contagious?

Strep throat is contagious until 24 hours after starting antibiotic treatment. Without treatment, individuals can remain contagious for several weeks, even if their symptoms have improved. It’s important to stay home from work, school, or daycare until you are no longer contagious to prevent spreading the infection to others.

4. Can strep throat go away on its own?

While some people may experience improvement in strep throat symptoms without treatment, it is not recommended to let the infection run its course. Untreated strep throat can lead to serious complications, and antibiotic treatment is necessary to eliminate the bacterial infection and prevent long-term health issues.

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