The Bartholin glands — also called the greater vestibular glands — are a pair of glands, one on each side of the vagina. They secrete a fluid that lubricates the vagina.

It is not uncommon for a duct (opening) from the gland to get blocked, causing fluid to build up in the gland, which results in swelling.

This fluid buildup and swelling is referred to as a Bartholin cyst and typically occurs on one side of the vagina. Sometimes, the fluid becomes infected.

A small, uninfected Bartholin cyst — also referred to as Bartholin abscess — might go unnoticed. If it grows, you might feel a lump near the vaginal opening.

A Bartholin cyst is commonly painless, however some people may experience some tenderness in the area.

If your vaginal cyst becomes infected, your symptoms might include:

  • Soaking in a few inches of warm water — either in a tub or sitz bath — four times a day for a few days may resolve even an infected Bartholin cyst.
  • Taking over-the-counter painkillers, such as naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), acetaminophen (Tylenol), or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), may help with discomfort.

Make an appointment to see your doctor about a painful lump in your vagina if:

  • The vaginal pain is severe.
  • You have a fever higher than 100℉.
  • Three days of home care — such as soaking — does not improve the condition.
  • You are over 40 years old or postmenopausal. In this case, your doctor might recommend a biopsy to check on the possibility, although rare, of cancer.

Your doctor might refer you to a gynecologist.

Your doctor may suggest you start with home treatment. If your cyst is infected, however, they may recommend:

  • a small incision followed by up to six weeks of drainage, possibly with a catheter
  • antibiotics to fight bacteria
  • surgical removal of the gland, in rare cases

A Bartholin cyst can often be effectively treated at home. If it doesn’t respond to home treatment or appears to be infected, you should see your doctor. In most cases treatment is simple and effective.