Bartholin’s Gland Cyst
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What is the Bartholin’s gland?
The Bartholin’s gland is a tiny organ on each of the labia (vaginal lips), near the opening of the vagina. If the vagina were the face of a clock, these glands would be found at about 4 and 8 o’clock. Normally they are invisible. They make a small amount of fluid that lubricates the vaginal lips. If a flap of skin grows over the opening of one of the glands, the fluid backs up. It causes a round swelling called a cyst. The cyst can grow from the size of a penny to larger than an orange, although most don’t get bigger than a golf ball. Cysts can be tender.
You may notice a round, painless or slightly tender bulge in one of the vaginal lips, near the opening of the vagina. It may stay the same size or may slowly grow larger. Cysts that get infected are usually very tender. In more severe cases, walking or sexual intercourse may be painful.
If your Bartholin’s gland cyst is small, you may not notice it. Once it grows large or becomes infected, you will begin to notice symptoms. Your healthcare will be able to diagnose the cyst by looking at it.
Can a Bartholin’s gland cyst be prevented or avoided?
There is no way to prevent a Bartholin’s gland cyst from forming. If you think you have one, contact your healthcare provider. This way, you can get early and effective treatment.
How are Bartholin’s gland cysts treated?
The treatment can depend on the size of the cyst, how painful it is, if it’s infected and your age. In some cases, a small cyst can be treated by soaking in a few inches of warm water (called a sitz bath) several times a day for 3 or 4 days. This allows the cyst to rupture and drain with little pain or discomfort.
In other cases, the healthcare provider can perform a minor procedure in the office. During this procedure, the healthcare provider makes an incision and puts a small tube, called a catheter, into the cyst. The catheter stays in place for 4 to 6 weeks, draining the fluid. Then the catheter is easily taken out in the healthcare provider’s office. If you have this catheter put in, you can go on with your normal activity, although you should talk with your healthcare provider about sexual activity while the catheter is in place.
Another procedure that can also be done in the healthcare provider’s office is making a small cut in the cyst to drain the fluid. Stitches are then placed at the edge of the cyst to allow a small opening to form. This procedure is called a marsupialization. You may have light discharge for a few weeks. Panty liners should be all you need to use to take care of this discharge.
Less common procedures involve using a laser or surgically removing the entire gland. Both of these procedures are usually performed in an outpatient operating room as same-day surgery.
Living with a Bartholin’s gland cyst
It is possible for Bartholin’s gland cysts to come back after treatment, often years later. Cysts can be treated again, and the Bartholin’s glands can be removed completely if cysts recur often.