Do you know about bartholin's cysts?
People assigned female at birth (AFAB), at all ages, are susceptible to Bartholin's cysts, which are a common condition. The Bartholin's glands,1 which are situated close to the vaginal opening, secrete fluid that aids in lubricating the vagina while engaging in sexual activity. A cyst may occasionally develop as a result of these glands becoming blocked. This can cause discomfort and pain, and it's important to seek medical attention for proper diagnosis and treatment.
We'll go over the causes, signs, diagnoses, and available treatments for Bartholin's cysts in this article. In order to better understand this condition, let's get started.
The Bartholin's glands are found on either side of the vaginal opening. These glands secrete fluid that aids in vaginal lubrication. When the openings of these glands become obstructed, fluid backs up into the gland. As a result, a relatively painless swelling known as a Bartholin's cyst develops. If the cyst fluid becomes infected, you may develop an abscess, which is a collection of pus surrounded by inflamed tissue, and it becomes known as a Bartholin’s abscess.
A Bartholin's cyst or abscess is fairly common. Treatment for a Bartholin's cyst is determined by the size of the cyst, its pain level, and whether or not the cyst is infected.
Sometimes home treatment is all that is required. In some cases, surgical removal of the Bartholin's cyst is required. Antibiotics may be useful in treating an infected Bartholin's cyst if an infection occurs.
Causes of bartholin's cyst
Although the exact cause of Bartholin's cysts is unknown, it is thought to be caused by a blockage of the Bartholin's gland duct.2 The fluid secreted by the Bartholin's glands, which are located on either side of the vaginal opening, helps to lubricate the vagina during sexual intercourse. When the ducts that connect these glands to the vagina become blocked, fluid accumulates, resulting in the formation of a cyst.
There are several factors that can cause a blockage of the Bartholin's gland ducts. One of the most common causes of Bartholin's cyst is infection. Bacteria like E. coli, N. gonorrhoeae, and Chlamydia trachomatis can infect the gland, causing inflammation and blockage.
Poor hygiene can also increase the risk of Bartholin's cyst by allowing bacteria to enter the gland and cause an infection. Furthermore, hormonal changes such as those experienced during menstruation or pregnancy can impair the function of the Bartholin's glands and increase the risk of cyst formation.
Cysts can also be caused by trauma or injury to the area surrounding the Bartholin’s gland. This can happen during sexual activity, vaginal childbirth, or any other physical activity that puts pressure on the gland.
Other risk factors for developing Bartholin's cyst include a history of previous cysts, a weakened immune system, and certain medical conditions such as diabetes.
Understanding the causes of Bartholin's cysts can help people take precautions to reduce their chances of developing the condition.
Signs and symptoms of bartholin's cyst
The symptoms of a Bartholin's cyst vary depending on the size and location of the cyst, as well as whether it has become infected. Sometimes, not all Bartholin's cysts cause symptoms. In some cases, a cyst may be small and painless, going unnoticed.
The following are some of the most common symptoms of Bartholin's cyst:3
- A Bartholin's cyst usually appears as a small, painless lump or swelling near the vaginal opening. The lump could be small or large, and it could be visible from the outside or not
- Pain or discomfort: As the cyst grows in size, it can cause pain or discomfort, particularly during physical activity or sexual intercourse. Depending on the size of the cyst and whether it has become infected, the pain can be mild or severe
- Redness and inflammation: A Bartholin's cyst can cause redness and inflammation in the affected area. The skin surrounding the cyst may become swollen, tender, and warm to the touch
- Discharge: In some cases, the cyst may become infected, resulting in the formation of an abscess. This can cause the cyst to fill with pus, which will then drain out, resulting in a foul-smelling discharge
- Fever and chills: If the cyst becomes infected, it can cause fever and chills, both of which indicate an infection
- Walking difficulty: A large cyst can cause discomfort and difficulty walking, particularly if it presses against surrounding tissue
Management and treatment for bartholin's cysts
Antibiotics may be required to clear the infection and prevent further complications if the cyst has become infected. If the cyst is large, causing significant pain, or has become infected, your doctor may advise you to have it excised and drained. This procedure entails making a small incision in the cyst to allow the fluid to drain. If a small catheter causes discomfort or becomes infected after the procedure, treatment may be required. The following is a summary of the treatment options for this condition:4
- Applying a warm compress to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and promote cyst drainage. Apply a warm, moist cloth to the cyst for 10-15 minutes several times per day
- Sitz baths are warm, shallow baths that can aid in the relief of swelling and pain caused by Bartholin's cyst. It entails sitting for 10-15 minutes in a few inches of warm water several times a day
- Antibiotics: If the cyst has become infected, antibiotics may be required to clear the infection and avoid complications
- If the cyst is large, causing significant pain, or has become infected, your doctor may recommend cyst incision and drainage. This procedure entails making a small incision in the cyst to allow the fluid to drain. Following the procedure, a small catheter may be inserted into the incision to prevent the cyst from re-forming
- Marsupialization: In some cases, your doctor may advise you to undergo marsupialization. This entails making a small incision in the cyst and sewing the incision's edges to the surrounding tissue
Diagnosis of bartholin's cysts
Your healthcare provider will most likely begin by performing a physical exam to diagnose a Bartholin's cyst. They will carefully examine your vulva and vaginal area for signs of swelling, redness, or tenderness during the exam. Don't worry; they'll do everything they can to make you feel at ease throughout the exam.
Your provider may also recommend imaging tests, such as an ultrasound, in some cases to get a better look at the cyst and its location. This can help rule out other possibilities, such as tumors.
If your doctor suspects that the cyst is infected, he or she may order additional laboratory tests to determine which bacteria is causing the infection. These tests can aid in treatment planning and ensuring that you receive the best possible care.
Can bartholin's cyst be prevented?
Unfortunately, there is no surefire way to prevent the formation of Bartholin's cysts. Practicing good hygiene and using condoms during sexual activity, on the other hand, may reduce the risk of developing a bacterial infection, which may contribute to the development of a cyst.
How common is bartholin's cyst?
Bartholin's cyst is a relatively common condition, with a 2% incidence rate in reproductive-age AFAB people.5
Who are at risk of bartholin's cyst?
While Bartholin's cysts can affect anyone AFAB, those who are sexually active or have a history of sexually transmitted infections may be at a higher risk of developing a cyst. AFAB people who have previously had Bartholin's cysts or abscesses are at a higher risk of recurrence.
Is bartholin's cyst contagious?
No, Bartholin's cysts are not contagious. It is not caused by a virus or other infectious agent but rather by a blockage in the duct of the Bartholin’s gland.
When should I see a doctor?
If you have any of the symptoms of Bartholin's cyst, such as a lump or swelling near the vaginal opening, discomfort during sexual activity, or redness and inflammation in the affected area, you should see a doctor. You should also seek medical attention if you develop a fever or if the cyst becomes painful or begins to drain pus. If you are concerned about your symptoms or have a family history of vulval cancer, you should consult your doctor.
Having a blocked Bartholin gland can result in Bartholin's cyst, which is a common condition. Warm compresses, antibiotics, or drainage are all effective treatments since they might cause discomfort or pain. Good hygiene habits and safe sex practices may reduce the risk of cyst development. It's important to visit a GP for a diagnosis and treatment.
- Quaresma C, Sparzak PB. Anatomy, abdomen and pelvis: bartholin gland. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 [cited 2023 Aug 8]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557803/
- Lee WA, Wittler M. Bartholin gland cyst. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 [cited 2023 Aug 8]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532271/
- Lee MY, Dalpiaz A, Schwamb R, Miao Y, Waltzer W, Khan A. Clinical pathology of bartholin’s glands: a review of the literature. Curr Urol [Internet]. 2015 May [cited 2023 Aug 8];8(1):22–5. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4483306/
- Omole F, Simmons BJ, Hacker Y. Management of bartholin’s duct cyst and gland abscess. afp [Internet]. 2003 Jul 1 [cited 2023 Aug 8];68(1):135–40. Available from: https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2003/0701/p135.html
- Marzano DA, Haefner HK. The bartholin gland cyst: past, present, and future. J Low Genit Tract Dis. 2004 Jul;8(3):195–204.