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The Bartholin’s gland is a tiny organ on each of the labia (vaginal lips), near the opening of the vagina. If the vagina were the face of a clock, these glands would be found at about 4 and 8 o’clock. Normally they are invisible. They make a small amount of fluid that lubricates the vaginal lips. If a flap of skin grows over the opening of one of the glands, the fluid backs up. It causes a round swelling called a cyst. The cyst can grow from the size of a penny to larger than an orange. Most don’t get bigger than a golf ball. Cysts can be tender.
Symptoms of a Bartholin’s gland cyst
You may notice a round bulge in one of your vaginal lips, near the opening of the vagina. It may be painless or slightly tender. It may stay the same size or may slowly grow larger. Cysts that get infected are usually very tender. In more severe cases, walking or sexual intercourse may be painful. Your doctor will look at the area to see if you have a cyst and to find out whether it’s infected.
What causes a Bartholin’s gland cyst?
Most of the time, Bartholin’s gland cysts are not infected. In some cases, they can be caused by an infection. Other times, they may become infected. Your doctor may want to check the fluid in the cyst. Most infected cysts (called abscesses) contain the normal bacteria (also called germs) that are found on your skin. Some infected cysts are caused by bacteria that are transmitted sexually.
How is a Bartholin’s gland cyst diagnosed?
If your Bartholin’s gland cyst is small, you may not notice it. Once it grows larger or becomes infected, you will begin to notice symptoms. Your doctor will be able to diagnose the cyst by looking at it.
Can a Bartholin’s gland cyst be prevented or avoided?
There is no way to prevent a Bartholin’s gland cyst from forming. If you think you have a Bartholin’s gland cyst, tell your doctor right away. This way, you can get early and effective treatment.
Bartholin’s gland cyst treatment
Treatment depends on the size of the cyst, how painful it is, if it’s infected, and your age. You can often treat small cysts by soaking in a few inches of warm water (called a sitz bath) several times a day for 3 or 4 days. This allows the cyst to rupture and drain with little pain or discomfort. In other cases, the doctor can perform a minor procedure in the office. During this procedure, the doctor makes an incision and puts a small tube (called a catheter) into the cyst. The catheter stays in place for 4 to 6 weeks, draining the fluid. While the catheter is in, you can go on with your normal activity. You should talk with your doctor about having sexual activity while the catheter is in place. Your doctor then easily removes the catheter in his or her office.
Another procedure that can also be done in the doctor’s office is making a small cut in the cyst to drain the fluid. The doctor will place stitches at the edge of the cyst to allow a small opening to form. This procedure is called a marsupialization. You may have light discharge for a few weeks. Panty liners should be all you need to use to take care of this discharge.
Less common procedures involve using a laser or having surgery to remove the entire gland. Both of these procedures are usually performed in an outpatient operating room as same-day surgery.
Living with a Bartholin’s gland cyst
It is possible for Bartholin’s gland cysts to come back after treatment. This can happen even years later. If so, your doctor can treat the cyst again. Your doctor also may completely remove the Bartholin’s glands if cysts recur often.
Questions to ask your doctor
- I have a bump on one of my vaginal lips. Could it be a Bartholin’s gland cyst?
- Do I need any tests, such as tests for sexually transmitted infections?
- How serious is the cyst? Is it infected?
- What are my treatment options? What treatment do you recommend for me?
- Is it safe for me to have sex?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.