What Is It?
A cyst is a sac filled with liquid or semisolid material that forms under the skin or somewhere inside the body. The Bartholin's gland is one of two small glands on each side of the labia minora, just outside of the opening to the vagina. During sexual arousal, the Bartholin's gland releases a lubricating fluid. A Bartholin's gland cyst develops when the gland becomes blocked. The Bartholin's gland can become blocked for a variety of reasons, such as infection, inflammation or long-term irritation.
Many Bartholin's gland cysts don't cause any symptoms. They usually are discovered when a woman notices a small, painless mass just outside the opening to the vagina, or when a physician notices it during a routine pelvic examination. However, if the cyst grows larger than 1 inch in diameter, it can cause discomfort when sitting, or during intercourse. If a cyst becomes infected, it fills with pus, and becomes firm, swollen, and very painful, making it difficult for a woman to sit, walk or have intercourse. The pus-filled cyst is called an abscess.
Your doctor will diagnose a Bartholin's cyst by looking at it. He or she can tell if the cyst is infected by the way it looks and your symptoms.
With proper care, a Bartholin's gland cyst can clear up in a few days to a few weeks.
When you first notice mild tenderness or a small lump, use warm towel compresses to help to drain the gland and cyst and to prevent infection.
If you have mild swelling but no cyst or if you have a cyst that is soft, apply warm compresses. That may be all you need to relieve the blockage and help to fight infection. Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and other brand names) may help to relieve pain and calm inflammation.
If the cyst turns into a larger abscess with pus, it must be drained. This procedure can be done in a doctor's office. The area is numbed with a spray or small-needle injection. Using a scalpel, the doctor makes a small incision in the cyst, which releases the pus. The release of pressure leads to immediate pain relief. With a larger abscess, a temporary drain or packing gauze may be placed inside the healing cyst.
You may need to take antibiotics if infection spreads to the surrounding skin and genital area. Sometimes, cyst infections continue to return. To prevent repeat infections, you may need a special procedure that can be done in the doctor's office. In one procedure, a small catheter is placed inside the cyst or abscess for a few weeks to allow for a new duct to grow around the catheter as it heals. This helps the gland drain better and prevents infection from coming back. In another procedure, called marsupialization, the doctor surgically opens the cyst and sews the edges to the surrounding skin to keep it open and prevent another cyst from forming.
When to Call a Professional
If you feel an area of tenderness around the opening of the vagina and it doesn't respond to warm compresses, or it becomes larger or more painful, make an appointment to see a health care professional. Also call a health care professional if you have a lump or tender area near the vagina, and you develop a fever.
The chance is good that this problem will clear up quickly. A Bartholin's gland cyst may respond to warm compresses alone within a few days. When an abscess forms that requires an incision, healing may take a few days to weeks, depending on the size of the abscess. Recurring cysts and abscesses treated with a catheter or marsupialization may take longer to heal. These procedures, however, are highly effective at preventing infections from coming back.
National Women's Health Information Center (NWHIC)
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