The Bartholin’s glands secrete a vaginal lubricating fluid. They are located on each side of the opening of the vagina, on the lips of the labia. The secreted fluid helps protect vaginal tissue during sexual intercourse. A Bartholin's gland cyst is a fluid-filled swelling on one of the glands. The cysts commonly occur in women of reproductive age. About 2 percent of women will develop a Bartholin’s gland cyst in their lifetime (Omole, F., et. al, 2003).
There is only one type of Bartholin’s cyst. Some cysts become infected. If this occurs, the cyst may also contain pus. When the cyst is infected, it is referred to as an abscess.
The Bartholin’s glands contain small ducts, or openings, that allow the fluid to flow out. The main cause of a cyst is the backup of fluid when the ducts become blocked (Mayo Clinic). The ducts may become blocked due to an injury or irritation. An extra growth of skin can also cause a blockage. In some instances, an infection can lead to the growth of a cyst
There are few identifiable risk factors for developing a Bartholin’s gland cyst. Although women of any age can develop the cyst, it is more common in women of reproductive age, especially between the ages of 20 and 29 years old (Omole, F., et. al, 2003).
Bartholin’s gland cysts can vary in size from about the size of a pea (0.2 inches in diameter) to as large as a marble (1 inch in diameter). According to the University Of Michigan Health System, in most instances, the cysts grow slowly.
Small Bartholin’s cysts may not cause any symptoms. Since Bartholin’s glands are usually not felt, a woman may not realize she has a small cyst if symptoms are not present. When symptoms do occur, they usually include a painless, small lump in the vulva area. Redness and swelling may also occur. Some women may have discomfort during sexual intercourse, walking, or sitting. If the cyst becomes infected, additional symptoms can develop. These include pus draining from the cyst, fever, and chills
A diagnosis of a Bartholin’s gland cyst is usually made after a medical history and pelvic exam by a doctor. If the cyst is infected, samples of vaginal secretions may be taken in order to determine if a sexually transmitted disease is present.
Treatment may not be needed if a Bartholin’s gland cyst is small and does not cause any symptoms. If the cyst does cause symptoms, treatment may be recommended.
Sitting in a warm bath a few times a day or applying a moist, warm compress can encourage the fluid to drain from the cyst. In many cases, home care may be enough to treat the cyst.
If the cyst is painful, over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen may be used to reduce discomfort. If the cyst becomes infected, antibiotics may be prescribed.
There are a few different surgical approaches that can treat a Bartholin’s gland cyst. If the cyst is large and causing symptoms, a small slit can be made on the cyst, which allows the fluid to drain. The procedure is usually done in a doctor’s office with a local anesthetic to numb the area.
Large, reoccurring cysts are symptomatic. In these cases, a small tube can be inserted into the cyst and left in place for a few weeks. The tube allows the fluid in the cyst to drain and helps the duct stay open.
An additional procedure called a marsupialization can also be performed. The procedure involves making small, permanent slits or openings, which help the fluid drain and prevent the cysts from forming.
If cysts continue to reoccur and cannot be treated with other methods, surgical removal of the gland can be performed.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the prognosis for women with a Bartholin’s gland cyst is excellent. In most instances, the cyst can be successfully treated. Reoccurrence of an infected cyst develops about 10 percent of the time (University of Maryland Medical Center).
There is no way to prevent the development of a cyst. Safe sex practices, such as using a condom, and good hygiene may prevent a cyst from becoming infected.