Bartholin cysts are named after Caspar Bartholin, a 17th-century Danish physician who was the first to describe them. The Bartholin’s (BAHR-toe-linz) glands are on each side of the vaginal opening. These glands secrete fluid that lubricates the vagina during intercourse. The Bartholin’s ducts drain this fluid from the gland.
Occasionally, Bartholin’s duct becomes blocked, and the gland swells with fluid. This is called a Bartholin’s cyst (ksyt). A cyst can range in size from a pea to a golf ball — large enough to cause pain when walking or sitting.
A Bartholin’s cyst usually isn’t harmful and often disappears on its own within several weeks. Occasionally, a Bartholin’s cyst can become infected and require treatment with antibiotics or drainage.
What causes Bartholin cyst?
The exact cause of Bartholin’s cyst is unknown. It’s thought that sexual intercourse or other activities that pressure the Bartholin’s glands may block the ducts and cause fluid to back up in the gland. Bacteria on the skin around the vagina can then infect the fluid in the cyst, causing pain and swelling.
Signs and symptoms of a Bartholin’s cyst include:
- A lump or mass in one of your labia minora — the fleshy folds of skin surrounding the vaginal opening
- Pain during intercourse, walking, or sitting.
- Fluid drainage from a ruptured cyst
- Fever if your Bartholin’s cyst becomes infected.
When to see a doctor?
See your doctor if you develop a lump or mass in your vulva. In addition to performing a physical examination, your doctor may take a sample of fluid from Bartholin’s cyst for laboratory analysis. This can help confirm whether the cyst is infected.
How is Bartholin cyst treated?
Treatment for this depends on its size, whether it’s infected, and your symptoms.
Small, uninfected cysts often disappear without treatment within several weeks. Your doctor may recommend soaking in a warm bath several times daily to ease discomfort.
If the Bartholin’s cyst is large or painful, your doctor may recommend draining it. This can be done in two ways:
Incision and drainage. Your doctor makes a small cut in the cyst and drains the fluid. A local anesthetic is usually all that’s needed for this procedure. You’ll likely feel relief from pain immediately. Your doctor may place a tiny tube (catheter) in the duct to help keep it open and prevent the cyst from returning. The catheter is usually removed after a week or two.
Marsupialization. For this procedure, your doctor makes a small cut in Bartholin’s gland, removes any infected tissue, and stitches the cut open. A local anesthetic is usually all that’s needed. This allows the Bartholin’s duct to remain open so fluid can drain. The wound usually heals within four to six weeks.
If you have a recurrent or persistent cyst, your doctor may recommend surgical removal of the Bartholin’s glands (bartholinectomy).
Final takeaway :
Bartholin cysts are relatively common. They usually develop in women between the ages of 20 and 40. However, they can occur at any age. A cyst can range in size from a pea to a golf ball — large enough to cause pain when walking or sitting. Most cysts resolve independently within several weeks, but some may require drainage or surgical removal.