The Bartholin's glands, which are located on opposite sides of the vaginal opening, secrete fluid that provides lubrication for the vagina. If the opening of one of the gland's becomes blocked, the lubricating fluid backs up into the gland, forming what is known as a Bartholin's cyst. The cyst can become infected, causing swelling, fever and pain during intercourse. Usually only one gland at a time becomes infected.
Causes of a Bartholin's Cyst
The main cause of a Bartholin's cyst is the accumulation of fluid that can occur when the opening of a Bartholin's gland becomes blocked or obstructed from a bacterial infection, or from inflammation of or physical damage to the Bartholin's ducts, the tubes that lead from the glands to the vulva. In some cases, an infection occurs from sexually transmitted bacteria.
Symptoms of a Bartholin's Cyst
A Bartholin's cyst is a lump that appears on either side of the vaginal opening. It may be tender to the touch and, if infected, may cause the following symptoms:
A Bartholin's cyst can cause discomfort while walking, or pain during sexual intercourse.
Diagnosis of a Bartholin's Cyst
A Bartholin's cyst is diagnosed through a pelvic examination and a review of symptoms. Vaginal or cervical secretions may be tested for sexually transmitted diseases, and a biopsy of the cyst may be performed.
Treatment of a Bartholin's Cyst
Treatment of a Bartholin's cyst depends on its size and whether it is infected. If the cyst is not infected and not causing any discomfort, no treatment may be necessary. Conservative treatments, such as soaking the cyst in warm water several times a day, may be effective at helping the cyst to drain on its own.
Surgical drainage is sometimes necessary when a cyst is infected and very large. A catheter is inserted into the cyst to drain it; the catheter remains in place for up to six weeks to ensure complete drainage. Antibiotics may be prescribed. More aggressive treatment options include a surgical procedure known as marsupialization, which creates a permanent opening in each gland to prevent recurrence.