The Bartholin glands are two small glands located on either side of the opening of the vagina. The glands produce mucus that helps lubricate (moisten) the vagina. A Bartholin cyst occurs when a blockage happens in the openings of one of these glands, causing the mucus to build up and form a lump.
Bartholin cysts occur in about 3% of all women. Doctors typically diagnose them in women of reproductive age. The chance of developing a Bartholin cyst decreases after menopause.
Many Bartholin cysts are small and do not cause symptoms. If a Bartholin cyst forms an abscess (infection), symptoms may include pain, change in size with swelling, drainage, redness and fever. Larger cysts that aren't infected may cause symptoms including:
To diagnose a Bartholin cyst, a doctor will do a physical exam to look at the vagina. If the cyst produces discharge, your doctor may test the fluid for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or other bacterial infections.
In women older than age 40, doctors may perform a test called a biopsy to rule out cancer of the vulva. During this test, the doctor will remove a small sample of tissue and look at it under a microscope.
Treatment for Bartholin cysts depends on the symptoms. If a cyst is small and doesn't appear infected, it does not need treatment. However, your doctor may recommend watching it for growth.
If the area has signs of infection and is painful, your doctor may recommend self-care treatments including sitting in a warm bath a few times a day for several days. This may help drain the cyst and relieve pain. Over-the-counter pain medications can also help ease discomfort.
If symptoms persist or the cyst grows, then you may be developing a Bartholin's abscess. Your doctor may want to drain the abscess or give you antibiotics.
Doctors do not know why most Bartholin cysts occur, so you usually can't prevent them. You can reduce your risk of developing a cyst caused by an STI by using a condom during sex.
Contact your doctor if you have a painful lump in the area surrounding your vagina. If you have been previously diagnosed with the Bartholin cyst, call your doctor if there is a change in size, or signs of infection.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 03/15/2018