The Bartholin's (BAHR-toe-linz) 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's cyst. At times, the fluid within the cyst may become infected, resulting in pus surrounded by inflamed tissue (abscess).
A Bartholin's cyst or abscess is common. Treatment of a Bartholin's 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's cyst is necessary. If an infection occurs, antibiotics may be helpful to treat the infected Bartholin's 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 these 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's 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 infections 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 there's often a lot to cover, it's a good idea to be prepared.
What you can do
For a Bartholin's cyst, some basic questions to ask include:
Don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment if you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
To diagnose a Bartholin's 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's cyst requires no treatment — especially if the cyst causes no signs or symptoms. When needed, treatment depends on the size of the cyst, your discomfort level and whether it's infected, which can result in an abscess.
Treatment options your doctor may recommend include:
Rarely for persistent cysts that aren't effectively treated by the above procedures, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the Bartholin's gland. Surgical removal is usually done in a hospital under general anesthesia.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Daily soaking in warm water, several times a day, may be adequate to resolve an infected Bartholin's 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, after your doctor's approval, you may resume your normal activities, including sex, depending on your level of comfort.
There's no way to prevent a Bartholin's 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: 2012-04-24
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