A Bartholin gland cyst is a small sac of fluid that forms when the opening of a Bartholin gland is blocked. There are 2 Bartholin glands, 1 on each side, just below5 the opening of the vagina (figure 1).
The Bartholin glands make small amounts of fluid. The fluid helps keep the vulva (the area around the opening of the vagina) moist. If something blocks the opening of a Bartholin gland, fluid can build up and form a cyst. This usually happens in just 1 gland, not both at once.
You might notice a lump in your vulva, but Bartholin gland cysts often do not cause any other symptoms. If they do, the main symptoms are pain or discomfort when you walk, sit, or have sex.
If a Bartholin gland cyst gets infected, it can form an abscess. An abscess is a pocket of pus. Symptoms of a Bartholin abscess include:
- Severe pain – It might be painful to walk. You also might not be able to sit or have sex.
See your doctor or nurse if:
- You see or feel a lump in the vulva
- It is painful to walk, sit, or have sex
Maybe. If you have an abscess, the doctor or nurse will send a small sample of the pus 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, the doctor or nurse might do a test called a “biopsy” to check for cancer. Cancer in a Bartholin gland is rare, but it can happen. For a biopsy, the doctor takes a small sample of tissue from the area. Then they send the tissue to a lab. Another doctor looks at it under a microscope to check for cancer.
Treatment depends on the size of the cyst, whether it is causing symptoms, and whether the cyst is infected (abscess). If you do not have symptoms, you might not need any treatment. Otherwise, treatments can include:
- Draining the cyst or abscess – In this procedure, the doctor cuts a small hole in the cyst to let fluid or pus out. A tiny balloon might be 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 doctor takes the balloon 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.
- Surgery – Doctors can do this if draining fluid and putting in a balloon does not work well. A doctor can make a new opening to help the Bartholin gland drain fluid. Or they can remove the gland and any cyst or abscess. But surgery has a higher risk of side effects than other treatments, so doctors don’t do it as often.