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  • Michael Frey, MD

Bartholin's Gland Cyst

A fluid-filled lump near the vaginal opening. It's rarely serious, but can be painful.

What Is The Bartholin's Gland?

A woman has two Bartholin glands. They are located on the sides of the vaginal opening. These pea-sized glands make mucus. This mucus lubricates the outside part of the vagina (vulva). If a tube (duct) in one of these glands becomes blocked, it can cause a cyst or abscess.

What causes a Bartholin cyst? A cyst can form when the duct of a Bartholin gland becomes blocked. The mucus can’t come out of the gland. It builds up. If the cyst becomes infected, it may turn into an abscess.

Common causes of infection are:

  • Chlamydia, gonorrhea, or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

  • Bacterial infections such as Escherichia (E. coli).

Symptoms of a Bartholin cyst A Bartholin cyst starts as a small bump. It may cause no other symptoms. Or it may grow bigger. It can then cause swelling and pain. If an abscess forms, it can be very painful. You may have a fever. You may have trouble walking, sitting, or having sex.

Treatment for a Bartholin cyst A cyst that doesn’t cause any symptoms may not need to be treated. It may go away on its own. But if you feel discomfort or pain, treatment options include:

  • Medicine. Over-the-counter pain medicines can help. In some cases, you may need antibiotics if an infection is severe or a cyst or abscess comes back.

  • Sitz bath. Soaking the genital area in a hot bath filled with Dr. Teal's Epsom Salt can ease pain and sometimes help the cyst to drain on its own.

  • Warm soaks. Soak a baby diaper (Pampers brand is best) with hot water, apply to the area twice a day for 20 minutes each. Consider using hot milk instead of water (though it is messier and more expensive.)

  • Drainage. Cutting open the cyst allows the fluid inside it to drain. This eases discomfort and pain. A tube (catheter) may be inserted to help with drainage. This catheter may need to stay in place for up to 4 weeks.

  • Surgery. You may need to have the Bartholin glands removed if other treatments don’t work.

Balloon Catheter Insertion

A permanent passage is created to drain away any fluid that builds up in the future. A cut is made in the abscess or cyst and the fluid is drained. A balloon catheter is then inserted into the empty abscess or cyst. A balloon catheter is a thin, plastic tube with a small, inflatable balloon on one end.

Once inside the abscess or cyst, the balloon is filled with a small amount of salt water. This increases the size of the balloon so it fills the abscess or cyst.

The catheter will stay in place while new cells grow around it. This means the wound's surface heals, but a drainage passage is left in place. This process takes around 4 weeks. After that, the balloon will be drained and the catheter removed.

8 out of 10 women will never have the cyst come back.

Possible complications of balloon catheter insertion include:

  • pain while the catheter is in place

  • pain or discomfort during sex

  • swelling of the lips (labia) around the opening of the vagina

  • infection

  • bleeding

  • scarring


If a cyst or abscess keeps coming back, a surgical procedure known as marsupialization may be used.

The cyst is first opened with a cut and the fluid is drained out. The edges of the skin are then stitched to create a small "kangaroo pouch", which allows any further fluid to drain out.

When the procedure is complete, the treated area may be loosely packed with gauze to soak up fluid from the wound and stop any bleeding. This will usually be removed before you go home.

Marsupialization takes about 10 to 15 minutes and is usually performed as an outpatient surgery.

Although complications after marsupialization are rare, they can include:

  • infection

  • the abscess returning

  • bleeding

  • pain – you may be given painkillers for the first 24 hours after the procedure

Removing the Bartholin's gland

Surgery to remove the affected Bartholin's gland may be recommended if other treatments have not been effective and Bartholin's cysts or abscesses keep coming back. This operation is usually carried out under general anesthetic and takes about an hour to complete.


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