Bartholin's cyst 

  • Overview

Introduction 

A Bartholin's cyst, also called a Bartholin's duct cyst, is a small fluid-filled sac just inside the opening of a woman's vagina.

A Bartholin's cyst can stay small and painless and may not cause any symptoms. However, the cyst can become infected, which can cause a painful collection of pus (an abscess) in the Bartholin's gland.

Read more about the symptoms of a Bartholin's cyst.

What causes Bartholin's cysts?

The Bartholin's glands are a pair of pea-sized glands. They are found just behind and either side of the lips that surround the entrance to the vagina. The glands are not usually noticeable because they are rarely larger than 1cm (0.4 inches) across.

The Bartholin's glands secrete fluid that acts as a lubricant during sex. The fluid travels down tiny tubes, called ducts, into the vagina. If the ducts become blocked, they can fill with fluid and expand to form a cyst.

It's not known exactly why the ducts become blocked, but some cases have been linked to bacterial infections. Bacteria are known to sometimes infect existing cysts, causing an abscess to develop.

Read more about the causes of a Bartholin's cyst.

When to see your GP

You should always see your GP if you develop a lump in the area around your vagina. They will usually be able to diagnose a Bartholin's cyst from its appearance during a physical examination.

If your GP thinks the cyst or one of your Bartholin's glands may be infected, they may use a swab to remove a sample of discharge for analysis to identify the bacteria responsible.

In some cases your GP may also advise having a biopsy of the cyst. This involves removing a small sample of tissue so it can be examined under a microscope to check that the cyst is not a sign of a rare type of vulval cancer.

How Bartholin's cysts are treated

If you do not have any noticeable symptoms, it's unlikely you will need treatment.

If the cyst is painful, your GP may recommend some simple self-care measures, such as soaking the cyst in warm water several times a day for three or four days.

Several treatments are available to treat any pain or infection and drain the cyst if necessary. Most of these treatments involve a minor surgical procedure.

However, Bartholin's cysts are estimated to recur after treatment in about one in every five women.

Read more about treating a Bartholin's cyst.

Who is affected?

It's estimated that around 1 in every 50 women will develop a Bartholin's cyst or abscess at some point. The condition usually affects sexually active women aged 20 to 30.

The Bartholin's glands do not start functioning until puberty, so Bartholin's cysts do not usually affect children. The cysts are also uncommon after the menopause as this usually causes the Bartholin's glands to shrink.

Preventing Bartholin's cysts

As it is not clear exactly why Bartholin's cysts develop, it isn't usually possible to prevent them.

However, practicing safe sex can help reduce your chances of picking up a sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as gonorrhoea or chlamydia, which can cause an abscess to develop.

The best way to reduce your chances of developing these infections is by using a condom every time you have vaginal sex.

Read more advice about STIs.

Page last reviewed: 25/11/2013

Next review due: 25/11/2015

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Comments

The 11 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Disillusioned again by NHS service said on 09 March 2014

Sorry to hear only wishes comments. Mine exactly same. I gad this done 10 months ago . Cyst removed under day surgery. Re-admitted hours after being discharge in total screaming agony. Rushed back down for emergency surgery to have a massive heamatoma operated as surgery went wrong. Left black and blue to just above knees. Have a huge lump left by scar tissue. Can't even insert a tampon properly . Contacting solicitor as it's not going to heal any better after 10 months . Disgraceful - told I was unlucky

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Miss78 said on 06 October 2013

Hi, I was told I had a bartholin absyss and given antibiotics after 3 days it got bigger and I was told would need operation to drain, whilst waiting in hospital for op for 24 hrs the absyss reduced in size and I was sent home with antibiotics, now 3weeks on the absyss/cyst is the size of a grape it doesn't hurt and I've been told the best thing to do is leave it. However during the last 3 weeks I have felt very tired and am having to sleep during the day and haven't felt well enough to go to work, I'm not sure if this is coincidence or related ? I was wandering if anyone else has felt extreme fatigue and also been told to leave cyst/ absyss as it is ?

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SoapGirl said on 29 September 2013

Hi. I really started to panic last week when I realised something was wrong. I firstly started to feel like I had been bruised but didn't really no why, blamed my hubby! Then as 3/4 days passed I started to feel as though something was there on one side and that walking was painful! I am 38 and even after three babies delivered naturally I have never known this! When I got a mirror and looked there was a lot of swelling on one side just inside my vagina.
I found this page very useful. I tried a day of hot baths and applying a bit of pressure. The next morning, there was no pain and a bit of swelling. I felt so happy. The next day (yesterday) still a bit of swelling, but today nothing! I am so pleased. I recommend the baths. I hope I am not one of the unlucky ones who gets another.

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dog girl said on 15 August 2013

I seem to get these all the time. It's total agony. The best thing that I do is to apply a salt compress. This helps draw any pus to the surface & it's cleansing. It always takes a few days though. I've had them for about 8 yrs, on & off. The pain is unbearable. Got 1 at mo. Trust me to be in the 2%!.

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onlywish said on 29 March 2013

hi, all i can say is do your research, i had one removed and have been left very disfigured , a women gyno cut off half of one of my inner labia when she removed the cyst, she did a butchers job with the cut n sew up that today im still sore and its been 3 years. My sex live is nil and im very depressed she has ruined my life.

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winrawrr said on 21 February 2013

I've been having Bartholin Cysts for about a year and half, about 12 altogether. I've only been to see a doctor 4 times and yesterday I was put on the waiting list to see a gyno. I've been sistting in warm baths up to my waist and holding wheat bags on it to make them burst but it usually takes about 4 or 5 days and I have to miss work which I don't get sick pay for. Can't wait to have an operation to have the whole gland removed, I've had a gutsful of them! I'm only 21 too

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superslimmer said on 11 December 2012

it is easy to drain them out yourself. had about 4 and did them myself every time. they have never come back.

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superslimmer said on 11 December 2012

I have had about 3 or 4 but did not go to doctors just dealt with them myself. drai ned them out and havent had them back for about 5 years.

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KirstyC13 said on 31 October 2012

I went to my doctors last year and he told me I had a Bartholin's cyst. He said that it was a blocked duct and although it was very painful there was not an awful lot they could do about them apart from surgery and even then it could come back. He said that there was no reason why the duct gets blocked and there was nothing I could do to prevent it happening. It went away of it's own accord but has come back several times since then and lasts a few days, is very painful and then goes away. I don't know if I should go and ask for it to be removed?

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lil miss sunshine said on 17 October 2012

hi ive had a barfolin cyst for the last eight years I was told I may have developed it from a sti I was horrified to be told this and had to wait a week for the results.luckily for me i didnt have a sti. it just appeared frm no where and grew extremly fast the bigger it became the more agonising it become.after a few days it was so painfull I couldnt walk ,sit down or do any think comftably so I went to A and E I was then due to have an operation the following day to have it drained but when returning home I felt a sudden relief of presure to which I found it had burst. although it had burst which was not good gettin rid of the presure was like being in heaven. I now have a reocouring cyst which usually flares up when im stressed or run down through my 8 years of living with this I have learnt you can drain them your self. if you act quickly when it first flares up you can apply presure on to the cyst using your hand the fluid will then drain out from your vagina.its not a very pleasent experience but it really helps how,ever if your cyst has become very big very painfull or the fluid draining out is a greenish or blood stained colour ur prbly need antibiotics.if u can manage to drain it ur self the best thing is to have a hot bath after or put a hot compress on it that usually gets rid of it untill the next time.hope this has been of some help if u two are suffering with a barfolin cyst.

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Misspainfullump said on 25 August 2012

Hi, I've just had one of these. Absolutely huge lump and have been in agony. It seemed to appear from nowhere a week ago. I visited my G.P who prescribed antibiotics. They had no effect at all. The lump just kept expanding and I couldn't sit, walk,sleep,etc. Eventually I couldn't stand it he pain any longer and took myself off to the local A and E dept at hospital. They took one look and kept me in last night and I had the op under general today. The relief was immediate! They cut and drained it and put some stitched in leaving a gap for drainage. The entire procedure took about 20 mins and I came home a few hours ago. Honestly, I am slightly sore but apart from that the pain has gone and I feel on cloud nine. The best I have felt for a week or more. To any one who is reading this, all I can say is don't suffer with one of these longer than necessary as they are evil. Get yourself off to A and E before the thing bursts. The staff at the hospital said I should have come along straight away instead of hoping it would go on it's own. Now I'm feeling great again and just so pleased I went and it's sorted. :) Hope this is some help.

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