Dr. MJ Bazos MD, Patient Handout
Bartholin's Gland Cyst
What is the Bartholin's gland?
The Bartholin's gland is a tiny organ on each of the labia (vaginal lips), near the opening of the vagina. If the vagina were the face of a clock, these glands would be found at about 4 and 8 o'clock. Normally they are invisible. They make a small amount of fluid that lubricates the vaginal lips. If a flap of skin grows over the opening of one of the glands, the fluid backs up. It causes a round swelling called a cyst (say "sis-st"). The cyst can grow from the size of a penny to larger than an orange, although most don't get bigger than a golf ball. They can be tender.
Are Bartholin's gland cysts caused by an infection?
Most of the time, Bartholin's gland cysts are not infected. In some cases, however, they can be caused by an infection, or they may become infected. Your doctor may want to check the fluid in the cyst. Most infected cysts, called abscesses (say "ab-sess-es"), contain the normal bacteria that are found on your skin. Some infected cysts, however, are caused by sexually transmitted bacteria (germs).
How do I know if I have a Bartholin's gland cyst?
You may notice a round, painless or slightly tender bulge in one of the vaginal lips, near the opening of the vagina. It may stay the same size or may slowly grow larger. Cysts that get infected are usually very tender. In extreme cases, walking may be painful. Your doctor will look at the area to see if you have a cyst and to find out if it's infected.
How are Bartholin's gland cysts treated?
The treatment can depend on one or more of these factors: the size of the cyst, how painful it is, if it's infected and your age. In some cases, a small cyst can just be watched over time to see if it grows. In other cases, the doctor can perform a minor procedure in the office. In this procedure, the doctor puts a small tube, called a Word catheter, into the cyst. The catheter stays in place for 2 to 4 weeks, draining the fluid and causing a normal gland opening to form. Then the catheter is easily taken out in the doctor's office. If you have this catheter put in, you can go on with your normal activity, although having sex would be uncomfortable while the catheter is in place.
Another treatment that can also be done in the doctor's office is making a small cut in the cyst to drain the fluid. Stitches are then placed at the edge of the cyst to allow a small opening to form. This procedure is called a marsupialization (say "mar-soup-eel-eye-za-shun"). You may have light discharge for a few weeks. Panty liners should be all you need to use to take care of this discharge.
Less common procedures involve using a laser or removing the entire gland surgically. Both of these procedures are usually performed in an outpatient operating room as same-day surgery.
Will the cyst come back?
Bartholin's gland cysts hardly ever come back after treatment. Sometimes a cyst will come back years later. It can be treated again.
How can I prevent Bartholin's gland cysts?
These cysts seem to be more of a case of "bad luck" than anything else. It's very hard to keep them from happening. If you think you have a Bartholin's gland cyst, tell your doctor right away so you can get early and effective treatment.