What is a Bartholin cyst?
A Bartholin cyst (or vulvar cyst) is a type of vaginal cyst that forms on either side of the labia (vaginal lips) near the opening of the vagina. It’s named after the Bartholin glands, which are two small glands that produce the fluid (mucus) that help lubricate the vagina. The labia and Bartholin’s glands are part of the vulva in the female reproductive system.
A Bartholin cyst occurs when a blockage happens at the openings of one of these glands, causing the mucus 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. When infected, Bartholin cysts can be painful and may require medical treatment.
What does a Bartholin cyst look like?
Bartholin cysts will look like round 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 are 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.
Who gets Bartholin cysts?
Bartholin cysts will occur in about 2% of all women at some time in their life. They are more common in women of reproductive age. The chance of developing a Bartholin cyst decreases after menopause.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes a Bartholin cyst?
Healthcare providers do not know why some women are predisposed to getting Bartholin cysts. Some causes of Bartholin cysts are:
- Injury, irritation or extra growth of skin in the vulvar area of the vagina.
- Chlamydia, gonorrhea or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
- Bacterial infections such as Escherichia (E. coli).
What are the symptoms of a Bartholin cyst?
Many Bartholin cysts are small and do not 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.
- Drainage from the cyst.
- Change in size (the cyst gets larger).
Is a Bartholin cyst contagious?
Most Bartholin cysts do not become infected and can’t spread during skin-to-skin contact. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) could be a cause of Bartholin cysts. These are contagious.
Are Bartholin cysts caused by an infection?
Bartholin cysts can be caused by E. coli and other bacterial infections or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like gonorrhea and chlamydia. These bacteria can clog the Bartholin gland and lead to a cyst.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is a Bartholin cyst diagnosed?
To diagnose a Bartholin cyst, a healthcare provider will do a physical exam. They will 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 bacterial infections.
Are there any other tests done to diagnose Bartholin cysts?
In women older than age 40, healthcare providers may perform a test called a biopsy to rule out cancer of the vulva. During this test, your healthcare provider will remove a small sample of tissue from the cyst and look at it under a microscope.
A Bartholin gland cyst may need to be surgically removed if your healthcare provider feels it may be cancerous. It's rare for cancer to develop in the Bartholin gland, however, it's more common if you are over the age of 60.
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 (infection). In severe cases, abscesses may need surgically drained.
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 to burst and drain on its own.
- Over-the-counter pain medications: Take as directed for pain relief and discomfort.
- Antibiotics: If your cyst becomes infected or tests show you have a sexually transmitted infection (STI), your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics.
- Surgical draining: If your cyst is large and infected, surgery may be done to drain the fluid. A small tube called a catheter will be inserted into the cyst. The catheter is usually left in place for several weeks to allow for complete drainage.
- Marsupialization: The cyst is surgically opened and drained. Then, the surgeon will 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’s gland: In extremely rare cases where treatment is not 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 that can be done at home, it’s best to talk to your provider first. Do not try to drain or squeeze a cyst as this could cause infection and make your symptoms worse.
How do I manage the symptoms of a Bartholin cyst?
To manage the symptoms of a Bartholin cyst, at-home remedies like soaking in a warm bath several times a day (a sitz bath) and taking over-the-counter pain relievers can help with discomfort. Bartholin cysts have a good chance of resolving on their own without medical treatment. If the cyst becomes painful or infected, contact your healthcare provider.
Do Bartholin cysts go away on their own?
It is common for Bartholin cysts to resolve 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. Do not 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. Once the cyst has been examined, your healthcare provider will be able to estimate how long your symptoms will last.
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. Infected Bartholin cysts could have an unpleasant odor when it ruptures. It is important to keep the area clean and practice good hygiene in the affected area.
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 is normal for a Bartholin cyst to drain on its own after several days of treatment (like after sitz baths or with antibiotics).
Can a Bartholin cyst be prevented?
Healthcare providers don't know why most Bartholin cysts occur, so you usually can't prevent them. You can reduce your risk of developing a cyst caused by STIs (sexually transmitted infections) by using a condom during sex. Good hygiene practices can help prevent infection of a cyst before it forms an abscess.
How can I reduce my risk of getting a Bartholin cyst?
You can’t prevent a Bartholin cyst from developing, but you can reduce your risk for complications that cause infections like maintaining good hygiene practices and wearing condoms during sex.
Can a Bartholin cyst keep coming back?
Yes, there are some women who get recurring Bartholin cysts. Healthcare providers are not sure why this happens. Bartholin gland cysts are relatively easy to treat, but your healthcare provider may need more intense treatment for recurring cysts.
When should I call the healthcare provider?
Contact your healthcare provider if you have a painful lump on either side of your labia that does not resolve within a few days of at-home care — for example, taking a sitz bath. If you suspect infection or if your pain is severe, make an appointment with your healthcare provider.
If you are 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a hormone imbalance cause a Bartholin cyst?
Hormone shifts and imbalances due to menstruation (getting your period) can cause vaginal dryness and other symptoms. It does not appear that this can cause a Bartholin cyst.
Does endometriosis cause Bartholin cysts?
Bartholin cysts are not caused by endometriosis. If you have concerns about the side effects of endometriosis, talk to your healthcare provider.
Can stress cause a Bartholin cyst?
It is not known if stress can cause Bartholin cysts. The cause of Bartholin’s cysts can be bacterial infections, sexually transmitted infections or injury to the vaginal area.
Is a Bartholin cyst an STD?
A Bartholin cyst is not a sexually transmitted disease (STD). One of the causes of a Bartholin cyst is sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but the cyst itself is not considered an STI or STD.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you feel a painful lump in your vaginal area, contact your healthcare provider so they can examine you for infection. Be open about your symptoms and any concerns you have. They will be able to diagnose and treat you after an exam of the area.
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