The Bartholin glands are located on both sides of the vaginal opening. They secrete fluids that help lubricate the vagina. If the glands are blocked for any reason, a round swelling called a cyst may develop.
The Bartholin gland ducts drain the fluid made by the glands. These ducts may become blocked due to infection or chronic inflammation. When a duct is blocked, the gland fills with fluid. This forms a cyst. The cyst can grow from very small to the size of a golf ball. Occasionally, the cyst itself may become infected, and a pocket of pus, called an abscess, develops.
The main causes of this condition include:
In many cases, the cause is unknown. Several different bacteria may cause a Bartholin abscess.
The main symptom of this condition is a painless lump on one side of the vaginal opening. In some cases, discomfort while walking, sitting, or having sex may occur. If an abscess forms, the lump may become swollen, red, warm, and tender.
A pelvic exam is all that is generally needed to diagnose this condition.
It is hard to prevent this condition. Practicing safe sex can help prevent sexually transmitted diseases, which sometimes lead to this condition. Using good personal hygiene can help to prevent an abscess. After having a bowel movement, a woman should always wipe from the front to the back to prevent bacteria that live in the bowels from getting into the vagina.
A Bartholin cyst doesn't normally cause any long-term effects and often causes no symptoms. If a Bartholin abscess develops and goes untreated, it can lead to a serious infection of the bloodstream known as sepsis. If cancer is the cause of this condition, death may occur if the condition goes untreated for too long.
There are no risks to others since this condition is not catching.
The treatment of this condition depends on the size of the cyst, how painful it is, and if the cyst is infected. In most cases, this condition causes no symptoms and needs no treatment. The cyst can be watched over time to see if it grows or causes symptoms. An abscess usually needs to be drained. This means a small incision is made in the cyst to release the trapped pus. Antibiotics may then be given.
In cases of repeated cyst infection or a cyst that causes uncomfortable symptoms, the doctor may perform a minor surgery to open the gland and its duct. A flexible, tiny tube is then sewn in and left in place until a new duct can form around it. This is often done in the doctor's office using only local anesthesia and a mild sedative. More extensive surgery is rarely needed unless cancer of the gland is present, which is rare.
Antibiotics may cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and in some cases an allergic reaction.
All surgery carries the risks of bleeding, infection, and reactions to any pain medicines used.
Recovery from surgery usually takes less than 2 weeks. No further treatment is usually needed after recovery. This condition rarely comes back after treatment. Sometimes, however, a cyst will come back years later. If it comes back, it can be treated in a similar fashion.
The condition is monitored mainly by the symptoms.
Author:Gail Hendrickson, RN, BS
Editor:Crist, Gayle P., MS, BA
Reviewer:Adam Brochert, MD
Tierney, Lawrence, editor, "Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment, 39th edition", 2000.
"Bartholin Cyst" www.aafp.org/patientinfo/barth.html