Bartholin’s glands are located between the vagina and the vulva and are usually not visible to the naked eye. They produce a fluid that helps reduce friction during intercourse. However, some women notice a suspicious lump, nothing like a cystic pimple. Know what is Bartholin’s cyst.
Bartholin’s cysts do not always cause pain. Although infectious agents are not responsible for causing the cysts to develop, bacteria can enter the fluid they contain once they have formed. If this occurs, the cysts can turn into abscesses.
Bartholin’s cyst is usually present in about 2% of people who seek gynecological care. So it is not very common among women.
A Bartholin’s cyst is a fluid-filled swelling in one of the Bartholin’s glands. The glands are on each side of the vaginal opening, on the lips of the labia. They secrete vaginal lubricating fluid, and this fluid helps protect vaginal tissue during intercourse.
These cysts are not common and usually develop after puberty and before menopause. About 2 percent of women will develop a Bartholin’s cyst in their lifetime.
Is it the same as a Bartholin’s abscess?
Doctors believe that bacteria, such as E. coli, and sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, can cause the infections that can lead to a Bartholin’s abscess. If bacteria enter the gland, swelling, infection, and blockage can occur.
When fluid builds up in the gland, pressure in the area increases. It can take years for the fluid to build up enough to form a cyst, but an abscess can form quickly afterwards. If the infection and swelling progress, the gland may abscess, opening up the skin. Bartholin’s abscess tends to be very painful. It usually only occurs on one side of the vagina at a time.
The abscess usually causes a lump to form under the skin on one side of the vagina. It will typically cause pain during any activity that puts pressure on the area, such as walking, sitting, or having sex. We may even have a fever and the skin may be red or swollen.
Reasons for appearance
Bartholin’s glands contain small ducts, or openings, that allow fluid to flow out. The main cause of a cyst is the accumulation of fluid that occurs when the ducts become blocked. The ducts can become blocked due to injury or irritation, or extra skin growth.
In some cases, an infection can cause a cyst to grow. Bacteria that can infect a cyst include Escherichia coli and bacteria that cause gonorrhea or chlamydia. Although these cysts can develop at any age, they are more common during the reproductive years, especially between the ages of 20 and 29 .
The immune system’s reaction to a bacterial infectious agent can cause the obstruction and subsequent abscess. Examples of these agents include:
- Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which causes gonorrhea, a disease that is spread through sexual contact
- Chlamydia trachomatis, which causes chlamydia
- Escherichia coli, which can affect the water supply and cause hemorrhagic colitis
- Streptococcus pneumoniae, which can cause pneumonia and middle ear infections
- Haemophilus influenzae, which can cause ear infections and respiratory infections
Although doctors do not consider the Bartholin cyst to be the exclusive result of sexual transmission, N. gonorrhea is among the most common pathogens that doctors isolate when testing cysts.
Bartholin’s cysts can be the size of a pea or as large as a marble. They also tend to grow slowly. Small cysts may not cause any symptoms. Since we can’t normally feel the glands, we may not realize a small cyst is present if there are no symptoms.
When symptoms do occur, we typically find:
- Small, painless lump near the opening of the vagina
- Redness near the opening of the vagina
- Vaginal labia larger than another
- Swelling near the opening of the vagina
- Discomfort during intercourse, walking, or sitting
If the cyst becomes infected, there may be pus coming from the cyst, pain, fever, chills, or trouble walking. An infected cyst is known as an abscess.
Bartholin’s cysts should not be a cause for concern in people of reproductive age. However, after menopause, it is wise to check the genitals for lumps or cysts and consult a doctor about possible malignancies.
Your doctor can usually diagnose a Bartholin’s cyst after reviewing your medical history and performing a pelvic exam. If the cyst is infected, the doctor may need to take a sample of vaginal secretions to check for a sexually transmitted infection.
If we are over 40 or postmenopausal, a doctor may do a biopsy to look for cancer cells.
A Bartholin cyst may not require treatment if it is small and does not cause any symptoms. If the cyst causes symptoms, we will seek treatment.
If the Bartholin cyst is small and there are no symptoms, treatment may not be necessary. However, doctors will likely ask us to monitor the cyst and report any enlargement or discomfort.
Sitting in a warm bath several times a day or applying a warm, wet compress can encourage drainage of fluid from the cyst. In many cases, home care may be enough to treat the cyst. Other home treatment options include:
- Pain relievers : Taking over-the-counter pain relievers, including acetaminophen and ibuprofen, can help a person with a Bartholin’s cyst relieve discomfort.
- A warm compress – Applying gentle pressure to the cyst with a flannel or cotton cloth soaked in warm water may help.
However, it is important to seek advice about any unusual or suspicious lumps in the vaginal area, especially if a person has entered menopause.
Your doctor may use a few different methods to treat your Bartholin’s cyst:
- Marsupialization : The surgeon cuts the cyst and drains the fluid. They suture the edges of the skin so that secretions can pass through.
- Carbon Dioxide Laser – This highly focused laser can create an opening that helps the cyst drain.
- Needle aspiration : The surgeon uses a needle to drain the cyst. Sometimes, after draining the cyst, they fill the cavity with a 70% alcohol solution for a few minutes before drainage. This solution reduces the risk of bacteria entering the wound.
- Excision of the gland : If a person has many recurring cysts that do not respond well to any therapy, the doctor may recommend complete removal of the Bartholin’s gland.
If the cysts keep coming back and other treatment methods don’t work, the doctor may surgically remove the gland. This procedure is rare. You can’t prevent a Bartholin’s cyst from developing, but you can help prevent complications from developing.
Using a condom or other barrier method during sex and practicing good hygiene can help prevent the cyst from becoming infected.
Because doctors aren’t sure what caused the initial blockage of the duct, there aren’t many recommendations for preventing Bartholin’s cyst.
However, because sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and chlamydia can cause the cyst, sexually active people can reduce their risk by using barrier methods of birth control, such as a condom or dental dam.