A Bartholin’s cyst is a fluid-filled swelling on one of the Bartholin’s glands. The Bartholin’s glands are on each side of the opening of the vagina, on the lips of the labia. They secrete vaginal lubricating fluid. The fluid helps protect vaginal tissue during sexual intercourse.
These cysts aren’t common and usually develop in women of reproductive age after puberty and before menopause. About 2 percent of women will develop a Bartholin’s cyst in their lifetime.
Bartholin’s cysts can be about the size of a pea to as large as a marble, or from about 0.2 to 1 inch in diameter. They usually grow slowly.
Small Bartholin’s cysts may not cause any symptoms. Since you can’t usually feel the Bartholin’s glands, you may not realize you have a small cyst if you don’t have symptoms.
When symptoms do occur, they usually include the following:
- a painless, small lump near the opening of the vagina
- redness near opening of the vagina
- swelling near the opening of the vagina
- 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. When a cyst is infected, it’s referred to as an abscess.
The Bartholin’s glands contain small ducts, or openings, that allow fluid to flow out. The main cause of a cyst is the backup of fluid that occurs when the ducts become blocked. The ducts may become blocked due to an injury or irritation, or an extra growth of skin.
In some instances, an infection can lead to the growth of a cyst. Bacteria that can infect a cyst include Escherichia coli and bacteria that cause gonorrhea or chlamydia.
Although women of any age can develop the cyst, it’s more common in women of reproductive age, especially between the ages of 20 and 29 years old.
Doctors can typically diagnose a Bartholin’s cyst after evaluating a medical history and performing a pelvic exam. If you have an infected cyst, your doctor may need to take a sample of vaginal secretions to determine if a sexually transmitted disease is present. If you’re over 40 or postmenopausal, your doctor may take a biopsy to check for cancerous cells.
A Bartholin’s cyst may not require treatment if it’s small and doesn’t cause any symptoms. If the cyst does cause symptoms, you should get treatment for it.
Sitting in a warm bath a few times per 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, you can take over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen to reduce pain and discomfort. If the cyst becomes infected, your doctor can prescribe antibiotics.
Your doctor can use a few different methods to treat a Bartholin’s cyst:
- If the cyst is large and causes symptoms, they can make a small slit to allow the fluid to drain. They can do this in the office and give you a local anesthetic to numb the area.
- For large, symptomatic, reoccurring cysts, your doctor can insert a small tube into the cyst and leave it in place for a few weeks. The tube allows the fluid in the cyst to drain and helps the duct stay open.
- Your doctor can also perform marsupialization. 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 other methods of treatment aren’t working, your doctor can surgically remove the gland. This procedure is rare.
You can’t prevent a Bartholin’s cyst from developing. Safe sex practices, such as using a condom, and good hygiene may help prevent the cyst from becoming infected.
Cysts on the Bartholin’s gland are rare. If they do develop, they’re easy to treat. Some cysts are so small they don’t even cause symptoms, and it’s sometimes possible to treat them at home.
Recurring infections may need more intensive treatment. See your doctor for treatment if infections do recur. If you’re over 40 or postmenopausal and you develop a cyst, you should see your doctor. Your doctor may need to perform a biopsy to determine whether or not the cells are cancerous.