What is a Bartholin’s gland cyst?
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’re 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.
Symptoms of a Bartholin’s gland cyst
You may notice a round bulge on 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. They usually appear quickly. In more severe cases, walking or sexual intercourse may be painful.
What causes a Bartholin’s gland cyst?
While most aren’t, some Bartholin’s gland cysts can be infected. Your doctor may want to check the fluid in the cyst. Most infected cysts (called abscesses) contain the normal bacteria (germs) found on your skin. Some 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 large or becomes infected, you will 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 sure way to prevent a Bartholin’s gland cyst from forming. Good hygiene may play a role in prevention. However, sometimes the cysts appear no matter how good your personal hygiene. If you think you have one, 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. Adding Epsom salt or sitz salt can help even more. This allows the cyst to rupture and drain with little pain or discomfort.
In rare cases, the doctor can perform a minor procedure in the office. 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 continue normal activity. However, ask your doctor if it’s safe to have sexual activity during this time. At the end of treatment, your doctor easily removes the catheter in his or her office.
Another procedure is when the doctor makes a small cut in the cyst to drain the fluid. He or she 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 take care of this discharge.
Less common procedures involve using a laser or having surgery to remove the entire gland. Both of these are usually performed in a hospital as same-day surgery.
Living with a Bartholin’s gland cyst
It’s 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 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?