The Bartholin’s (BAHR-toe-linz) glands are located on each side of the vaginal opening. These glands secrete fluid that helps lubricate the vagina.
The Bartholin glands make small amounts of fluid. The fluid helps keep the vulva moist. Sometimes the openings of these glands become obstructed, causing fluid to back up into the gland. The result is relatively painless swelling called a Bartholin’s cyst. This usually happens in just one gland, not both at once.
If the fluid within the cyst becomes infected, you may develop a collection of pus surrounded by inflamed tissue (abscess).
Symptoms to see a doctor for:
- A tender, painful lump near the vaginal opening
- Discomfort while walking or sitting
- Pain during intercourse
If you have an abscess, a small sample of the pus can be sent to a lab for testing. This can show what type of germ caused the infection. You might need antibiotics for an infection caused by certain germs.
If you are older than 40, you might need to do a test called a “biopsy” to check for cancer. (Cancer in a Bartholin gland is rare, but it can happen.) In this test, a small sample of tissue from the area is sent to the lab to check for cancer.
Treatment depends on your age and whether the cyst is causing symptoms. If you do not have symptoms, you might not need any treatment. Otherwise, treatments can include:
Draining the cyst or abscess
In this procedure, a small hole is cut in the cyst to let fluid or pus out. A tiny balloon is sometimes placed in the hole to keep it from closing completely. The balloon is connected to a tiny tube called a “catheter” that helps fluid drain from the Bartholin gland. The balloon is taken out in about 1 month. It leaves a small opening where fluid can drain. This procedure is often done in a doctor’s office. But if you have a large or deep abscess, you might need treatment in the hospital.
Antibiotics are usually not needed. But you might get them in some cases, like if you have had an abscess before or are at high risk of the infection spreading.
This is done if draining fluid and putting in a balloon does not work well. A new opening can help the Bartholin gland drain fluid. Or the entire gland is removed any cyst or abscess. But surgery has a higher risk of side effects than other treatments, so doctors don’t do it as often.