What is that lump?
You’ve finished going to the bathroom and are wiping yourself when you notice a small lump on one side of your vagina. It doesn’t hurt, so you decide to see if it’ll get better in the next few days. Unfortunately, the area starts to hurt and causes discomfort when you’re walking. You go to the doctor and she tells you that you have a Bartholin’s cyst. What caused this to occur? Is it serious? How is it treated?
Bartholin’s glands are located on either side of the vaginal opening and secrete fluid that helps to lubricate the vagina. Sometimes, the opening may become blocked, resulting in the fluid backing up, causing the gland to swell. Typically, this results in a painless lump. These are more common than most people realize. The reason for the blockage is thought to be an injury to or infection of the area. Sometimes, the cyst becomes infected and is filled with pus. If this happens, the lump can be painful and red. Other signs include discomfort when walking/sitting, pain during intercourse, and fever. Since only one side is usually affected, the symptoms only appear on that side.
Usually, Bartholin’s cysts don’t require treatment. Interventions are based on the cyst’s size, your discomfort level, and if it’s infected. For small, noninfected cysts, the first step is to try sitz baths. This involves filling a tub with a few inches of warm water and soaking in it several times a day for a few days, which can help the cyst rupture and drain on its own. Taking over-the-counter pain relievers, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, might help relieve the discomfort. For large or infected cysts, your doctor may recommend surgically draining it. The procedure can be done under local anesthesia or sedation. The doctor makes a small incision into the cyst and puts in a small rubber catheter that can stay in place for up to six weeks to make sure that it’s completely drained. If your cyst is infected or you have a sexually transmitted infection, you’ll need to take antibiotics as well.
If you have repeated Bartholin’s cysts, you might need to have a marsupialization. In this procedure, your doctor places a stitch on either side of the drainage incision to keep the opening from closing. The incision is less than ¼ inch long and is designed to prevent future blockages. Initially, your doctor might place a catheter in the opening to help promote drainage. If, for some reason, you’ve tried all of these options and are still having issues with Bartholin’s cysts, your doctor will advise that you have the gland removed.
There isn’t anything specific you can do to prevent a Bartholin’s cyst from occurring. However, there are two things that you can do to reduce your chances of having one. The first is to have good hygiene habits that eliminate the possibility of infections, such as bathing regularly, but not douching or using scented products in your vaginal area. The second technique is to use safe sex practices since this will also decrease the chances of infection.
Bartholin’s cysts can range from uncomfortable to painful. The good news is there are ways to treat all of them. If you have any questions or concerns about Bartholin’s cyst, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit MedlinePlus’ Bartholin’s cyst page at https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001489.htm