The Bartholin's glands are located on each side of the vaginal opening. These glands secrete fluid that helps lubricate the vagina. Sometimes the openings of these glands become obstructed, causing fluid to back up into the gland. The result is relatively painless swelling called a Bartholin cyst. At times, the fluid within the cyst may become infected, resulting in pus surrounded by inflamed tissue (abscess).
A Bartholin cyst or abscess is common. Treatment of a Bartholin cyst depends on the size of the cyst, the pain and whether the cyst is infected. Sometimes home treatment is all you need. In other cases, surgical drainage of the Bartholin cyst is necessary. If an infection occurs, antibiotics may be helpful to treat the infected Bartholin cyst.
The Bartholin's glands are located on each side of the vaginal opening. They secrete fluid that helps lubricate the vagina. Sometimes the ducts of these glands become obstructed and fluid backs up, ...
If the cyst remains small and no infection occurs, you may not notice it. If it grows, you might feel the presence of a lump or mass near your vaginal opening. Although a cyst is usually painless, it can be tender.
If the cyst becomes infected — a full-blown infection can occur in a matter of days — you may experience the following signs and symptoms:
A cyst or abscess typically occurs on only one side of the vaginal opening.
When to see a doctor
If you find a new lump near your vaginal opening and you're older than 40, call your doctor promptly. Although rare, such a lump may be a sign of a more serious problem, such as cancer.
Experts believe that the cause of a Bartholin cyst is a backup of fluid. Fluid may accumulate when the opening of the gland (duct) becomes obstructed, perhaps by the growth of a flap of skin or because of infection.
A cyst can become infected, forming an abscess. A number of bacteria may cause the infection, including common bacteria, such as Escherichia coli (E. coli), as well as bacteria that cause sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and chlamydia.
Bartholin cysts are likely to persist. Abscesses may recur and again require treatment.
Preparing for your appointment
Your first appointment will likely be with either your primary care provider or a doctor who specializes in conditions that affect women (gynecologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and it can be difficult to remember everything you want to discuss, it's a good idea to prepare in advance of your appointment.
What you can do
Some basic questions to ask include:
If you don't understand something your doctor tells you, don't hesitate to ask your doctor to repeat information or to ask follow-up questions for clarification.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
To diagnose a Bartholin cyst, your doctor may:
If cancer is a concern, your doctor may refer you to a gynecologist who specializes in cancers of the female reproductive system.
Treatments and drugs
Often, a Bartholin cyst requires no treatment — especially if the cyst causes no signs or symptoms (asymptomatic). When required, treatment of a Bartholin cyst depends on the size of the cyst, the amount of discomfort it causes and whether it's infected, resulting in an abscess. Here are some of the treatment options your doctor may recommend:
If you have persistent recurrences and none of these procedures is successful, your doctor may recommend removal of the Bartholin's gland, but this is rarely necessary. Surgical removal is usually done in a hospital during general anesthesia.
Some doctors are using laser therapy to treat Bartholin cysts, but this type of treatment isn't widely available and is more expensive than other surgical treatments.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Daily soaking in warm water, several times a day, may be adequate to resolve an infected Bartholin cyst or abscess.
After surgical procedures to treat an infected cyst or abscess, soaking in warm water is particularly important. Sitz baths help to keep the area clean, ease discomfort and promote effective drainage of the cyst. Pain relievers also may be helpful. If you have a catheter in place, you may resume your normal activities, including sex, depending on your level of comfort.
There's no way to prevent a Bartholin cyst. However, practicing safe sex — in particular, using a condom — and maintaining good hygiene habits may help to prevent infection of a cyst and the formation of an abscess.
Last Updated: 2010-01-19
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