Bartholin Gland Cyst: Symptoms, Treatments, and Causes

Medically Reviewed By Stacy A. Henigsman, DO
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Cysts are noncancerous, fluid-filled lumps. The Bartholin gland makes the lubrication at the opening of the vagina. People may notice cysts develop in this area. These cysts may be small and painless, but they can grow larger and become irritated, uncomfortable, or painful. Bartholin gland cysts are most common in people between the onset of puberty and the start of menopause. According to a 2022 article, Bartholin gland cysts and abscesses that cause symptoms account for 2% of all visits to gynecologists per year.

There are two Bartholin glands, each about 0.5 centimeters (cm) large. They are found in the lower right and left parts of the outer vagina. These glands play a role in secreting lubricant in the vagina.

Keep reading to learn about what symptoms can occur with a Bartholin gland cyst, how doctors can treat them, at-home treatment methods, and why these cysts happen.

What are the symptoms of Bartholin gland cyst?

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Usually, a Bartholin gland cyst does not cause symptoms. You or your doctor may find it upon examining the genital area or during imaging.

However, sometimes, people notice symptoms that happen due to the cyst. These symptoms can include:

  • painful sex
  • pain or discomfort when urinating
  • pain or discomfort in the pelvic area

The cyst can also cause the labia majora, or the outer lips of the vagina, to appear larger than usual. This usually happens on one side only.

Learn about vaginal pain here.

If the cyst has grown

Sometimes, a Bartholin gland cyst can grow larger. This growth can cause pain or irritation in the skin around the cyst, especially when you are sitting down, walking, having sex, or doing any activity that increases contact between the skin folds.

Cyst vs. abscess

A Bartholin gland cyst is a sac with cells inside. If this becomes infected, it can become an abscess, filling with liquid. Symptoms of a Bartholin gland abscess include the following at the site of the abscess:

  • flushed skin
  • tenderness
  • swelling
  • heat

Learn about vaginal swelling here.

How can I treat Bartholin gland cyst?

If the Bartholin gland cyst is small and is not growing or causing any symptoms, you may be able to treat it on your own. However, it is important to contact a doctor anyway, as they will recommend the best ways you can do this.

If the cyst is growing, causing symptoms, or is infected, you will need medical treatment.

At-home treatment

A physician may recommend the following treatment tips for reducing the pain of a Bartholin gland cyst at home:

  • Try soaking the cyst in warm water a few times a day for several days.
  • Taking over-the-counter painkillers can reduce pain.
  • If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, make sure you take the full course.

Reducing its size

Sometimes, Bartholin gland cysts shrink without treatment. This is called spontaneous draining.

However, you may not be able to completely reduce the size of a Bartholin gland cyst on your own. You may need to go to a doctor, who can drain it or suggest other treatment options.

Medical treatment

There are a variety of medical procedures a doctor may recommend for the treatment of Bartholin gland cysts. Antibiotics are an important part of treatment if the cyst has developed into an infected abscess.

Word catheter balloon insertion

If it is your first time experiencing a Bartholin gland cyst and it is causing you symptoms, doctors may recommend draining it with a tube called a Word catheter. It is important to let your doctor know if you have a latex allergy, as this tube is latex-based.

Doctors will make a small, 3-millimeter incision in the cyst. They may perform a biopsy and send some fluid to a lab for testing at this time. They then insert a small balloon into the catheter and inflate it with a small amount of saline water.

After the inflation, doctors will push the external part of the catheter into the vagina, making it more comfortable for the patient and less likely to move out of place.

The doctors will then leave this catheter in the cyst for at least 4 weeks.

The procedure takes about 15 minutes.

Marsupialization

A gynecologist will perform marsupialization in an operating room. Usually, doctors recommend this procedure if Word catheter balloon insertion has not worked.

Marsupialization involves surgically removing the cyst by opening and draining it, then stitching the sides of the opening. This keeps the sides open as the fluid drains out, and the openings will heal on their own. This process makes the cysts less likely to return.

The procedure involves a larger incision of about 2 cm and takes around 10–15 minutes.

Other medical treatment

Other less common medical treatment options a doctor may recommend include:

  • Silver nitrate ablation: Doctors apply silver nitrate to seal off the cells of the cysts.
  • Carbon dioxide laser vaporization: Doctors will use lasers to remove the cysts.
  • Jacobi ring placement: This rubber ring can help drain cysts, similar to the balloon catheter.
  • Bartholin gland excision: This procedure should be a last resort when other treatment options have not worked.

What can cause a Bartholin gland cyst?

Bartholin gland cysts happen when the ducts in the Bartholin glands become blocked. These glands secrete lubrication to the vagina.

Experts are not sure exactly why the cysts happen and why these ducts become blocked. However, it could sometimes occur due to:

  • sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • bacterial infections
  • trauma to the area
  • childbirth

How do doctors diagnose Bartholin gland cyst?

Doctors will sometimes diagnose Bartholin gland cyst during a routine pelvic examination or imaging test for another condition or symptom. This is often the case if the cyst has not caused any symptoms.

Doctors will also need to check that the cyst is not another condition. They can do this by sending away cyst samples or fluid samples to a laboratory for analysis. Alternatively, they can conduct other tests or visual exams. Some conditions present with similar conditions, including:

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Other frequently asked questions

The following are some commonly asked questions on Bartholin gland cysts.

Can it go away on its own?

Sometimes, Bartholin gland cysts go away on their own. This is called spontaneous draining. However, if your cyst is increasing in size or causing symptoms, seek medical care.

What happens if it is left untreated?

If a Bartholin gland cyst is not causing symptoms, you may not require treatment. However, Bartholin gland cysts can go on to cause irritation to the surrounding skin or could increase in size. They can also become infected and turn into abscesses.

How long do they take to go away?

The time it takes for the Bartholin cyst to disappear will depend on its size, whether it is infected, and what type of treatment a person has had. The most common type of treatment is Word catheter balloon insertion, which doctors leave in place for 4 weeks to drain properly.

Summary

Bartholin gland cysts are fluid-filled sacs that develop in the lower left or right sides of the outer vagina. They usually affect one side at a time.

The Bartholin glands produce lubrication for the vagina. Cysts in this area are fairly common and are usually painless. However, they can cause discomfort and pain, especially if they grow larger or become infected.

Bartholin cysts happen when the ducts within the cysts become blocked. This might be due to an infection or trauma, or it may happen with no known cause.

Although treatment is not always necessary, there are several treatment options for a Bartholin gland cyst.

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Medical Reviewer: Stacy A. Henigsman, DO
Last Review Date: 2022 Apr 28
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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