Bartholin Cyst

A Bartholin cyst is a firm, round bump near the opening to your vagina. It can cause irritation and pain but is often painless. Bartholin cysts can heal on their own. A healthcare provider may treat an infected Bartholin cyst by draining it or prescribing an antibiotic.


A Bartholin cyst developing on the Bartholin gland on the labia
A Bartholin cyst is a noncancerous lump under the skin of your labia. It may cause pain and irritation.

What is a Bartholin cyst?

A Bartholin cyst (or vulvar cyst) is a type of vaginal cyst that forms on either side of your labia (vaginal lips) near the opening of your vagina. It’s named after the Bartholin glands, which are two small glands (located on either side of your vagina) that produce a fluid that helps lubricate your vagina.

A Bartholin cyst occurs when a blockage happens at the openings of one of these glands, causing the fluid to build up and form a lump. It typically only occurs on one of the two Bartholin glands. Some Bartholin cysts are small and don’t cause any pain. If the cyst becomes infected with bacteria, an abscess can form. An infected Bartholin cyst can be painful and may require medical treatment.

What does a Bartholin cyst look like?

Bartholin cysts will look like round, solid bumps under the skin on the lips of your vagina (labia). They’re often painless. Some may become red, tender and swollen if an infection occurs. Other Bartholin cysts may look like they’re filled with pus or fluid. Bartholin cysts can be as small as a pea or grow as large as a golf ball. The cyst may make one side of your labia appear larger or look lopsided.

How common are Bartholin cysts?

Bartholin cysts will occur in about 2% of people assigned female at birth (AFAB) at some time in their lives. They’re more common when you’re between 20 and 40 years old. The chance of developing a Bartholin cyst decreases after menopause.


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Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of a Bartholin cyst?

Many Bartholin cysts are small and don’t cause symptoms other than minor irritation. If a Bartholin cyst forms an abscess (infection), symptoms may include:

  • Discomfort and pain during sex, walking, sitting, or when inserting a tampon or wiping after using the restroom.
  • Swelling and tenderness in the area.
  • Fever or chills.
  • Redness.
  • Drainage from the cyst.
  • Change in size (the cyst gets larger).

Are Bartholin cysts hard or soft?

Bartholin cysts are typically solid and firm when you touch them. The cysts may be slightly softer when fluid is trapped inside.

What causes a Bartholin cyst?

Healthcare providers don’t know the exact cause or why some people are prone to getting them. Some possible causes of Bartholin cysts are:

Is a Bartholin cyst contagious?

Most Bartholin cysts don’t become infected and can’t spread during skin-to-skin contact. If an infected cyst bursts or ruptures, the bacteria inside can be contagious depending on the type of bacteria.

Are Bartholin cysts caused by an infection?

Bartholin cysts are typically not caused by a bacterial infection. They can become infected more commonly by E. coli (bacteria typically from your colon) and other bacterial infections or sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea and chlamydia. These bacteria can clog the Bartholin gland and lead to a cyst.

What are the risk factors for a Bartholin cyst?

Healthcare providers aren’t entirely sure why some people get Bartholin cysts and others don’t. You may be more likely to get a Bartholin cyst if you’ve already had one.

Other risk factors for Bartholin cysts are:

  • Being between 20 and 30 years old.
  • Being sexually active.
  • Having recent trauma or injury to your vulva.
  • Having a sexually transmitted infection.

Once you have a Bartholin cyst, practicing good hygiene by keeping the area clean and dry can lower your risk for infection.


What are the complications of a Bartholin cyst?

Bartholin cysts are typically harmless and don’t cause serious complications. But the cyst can become extremely painful when an infection develops. It’s rare to develop cancer in your Bartholin gland, but in some cases, your provider may want to remove the cyst to check for cancerous cells.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is a Bartholin cyst diagnosed?

To diagnose a Bartholin cyst, a healthcare provider will do a physical exam. They’ll look at the size of the cyst and look for signs of infection. If the cyst produces discharge, your healthcare provider may test the fluid for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or other bacteria.

If you’re older than 40, your healthcare provider may perform a test called a biopsy to rule out cancer of your vulva. During this test, your healthcare provider will remove a small sample of tissue from the cyst and look at it under a microscope.

What can be mistaken for a Bartholin cyst?

A Bartholin cyst can be mistaken for other types of cysts like Skene’s gland cyst or a sebaceous cyst. It can also be mistaken for cysts or masses that are potentially cancerous. Your healthcare provider will consider factors like your age, active infections and health history when diagnosing and treating a Bartholin cyst.


Management and Treatment

What are the treatments for a Bartholin cyst?

Treatment for Bartholin cysts depends on the symptoms. If a cyst is small, painless and doesn’t appear infected, it may not need treatment.

If symptoms persist or the cyst grows, then you may be developing an abscess. Your provider may want to drain or remove the cyst if it’s infected or if it appears to be cancerous (rare).

Treatment options may include:

  • Sitz baths: Sit in a bathtub with 3 to 4 inches of warm water a few times a day for several days. This can provide comfort and promote healing. It could also help the infected cyst burst and drain on its own.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications: Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain relief (follow the instructions on the label).
  • Antibiotics: If your cyst becomes infected or tests show you have a sexually transmitted infection, your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics.
  • Surgical draining: Your healthcare provider may recommend draining the cyst if it’s infected and causing pain and discomfort. There are several ways to drain the cyst, depending on its size.
  • Marsupialization: Your healthcare provider opens and drains the cyst. opened and drained. Then, they stitch the edges of the cyst wall to form a permanent open pocket or “pouch” for continuous drainage. This is often helpful for recurrent Bartholin cysts.
  • Removal of the Bartholin gland: In extremely rare cases where treatment isn’t working, your healthcare provider may surgically remove the Bartholin glands.

Treatment for a Bartholin cyst should be directed by your healthcare provider. Even if it’s a treatment option you can do at home, it’s best to talk to your provider first. Don’t try to drain or squeeze a cyst as this could cause infection and make your symptoms worse.

What happens if a Bartholin cyst is left untreated?

Treatment may not be necessary if you don’t have symptoms and the cyst isn’t bothering you. These types of Bartholin cysts often heal on their own using at-home remedies like warm baths. If an infection develops and your cyst becomes large and painful, taking antibiotics to treat the infection or draining the cyst may be necessary.

Does a Bartholin cyst pop on its own?

It’s common for Bartholin cysts to heal on their own. Most healthcare providers will recommend sitz baths to manage symptoms. If a cyst drains or bursts on its own, this is OK. Keep the area clean and dry to minimize the spread of infection. Don’t squeeze or drain a Bartholin cyst yourself as this can cause infection. Contact your healthcare provider if the cyst becomes painful, infected or lasts several weeks without signs of improvement.

How long does a Bartholin cyst last?

The length of time you can expect to have a Bartholin cyst varies depending on its size and if becomes infected. Typically, cysts resolve completely within a few weeks.

What comes out of a Bartholin cyst when it opens?

A Bartholin cyst could be filled with pus, mucus, bacteria, blood or other fluid. This discharge can be thick and range in color from light yellow to brown or red. An infected Bartholin cyst could have an unpleasant odor when it ruptures. It’s important to keep the area clean and practice good hygiene.

Should I pop a Bartholin cyst?

You should never squeeze, pop or insert sharp objects like needles into a cyst to force it to open. This can cause injury and spread infection. It’s normal for a Bartholin cyst to drain on its own after several days of treatment (like after sitz baths or with antibiotics).

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Can I prevent a Bartholin cyst?

Healthcare providers don’t know why most Bartholin cysts occur, so you usually can’t prevent them. Since STIs are a risk factor, using a condom during sex can reduce your risk of getting a Bartholin cyst.

Outlook / Prognosis

Can a Bartholin cyst keep coming back?

Yes, there are some people who get recurring Bartholin cysts. Healthcare providers aren’t sure why this happens. Bartholin gland cysts are relatively easy to treat, but your healthcare provider may recommend a different approach if you get recurring Bartholin cysts.

Living With

When should I call the healthcare provider?

Contact your healthcare provider if you have a painful lump on either side of your labia that doesn’t go away after a few days of at-home care — for example, taking a sitz bath. If you suspect infection or your pain is severe, make an appointment with your healthcare provider.

If you’re older than 40, a cyst on your vagina could be a sign of a more serious issue. In this case, contact your healthcare provider immediately.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

A Bartholin cyst is usually harmless, although it can become painful and irritating. If you feel a lump near the opening of your vagina and don’t know what it is, contact your healthcare provider. They can determine if the cyst is a Bartholin cyst and check for signs of infection. In most cases, the cyst heals on its own or with a combination of at-home care and antibiotics.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 05/10/2024.

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