Injury or infection can lead to an obstruction of the gland, creating a fluid back up and causing a Bartholin’s cyst to develop. The cyst often forms over time and eventually appears as a lump on the labia majora. Unless infection is present, Bartholin’s cysts are not typically painful.
In some cases, Bartholin’s cysts can quickly become infected. Infected cysts can cause pain with certain activities, such as sitting and walking,or during sexual intercourse. Infections may be caused by a variety of bacteria including those associated with sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhea.
If a Bartholin’s cyst is suspected, the condition is diagnosed by a gynecologist based on your medical history and by performing a pelvic exam.Samples may be taken to test for a sexually transmitted infection or to identify another source of infection. Vulvar masses in postmenopausal women or women over age 40 should be biopsied to rule out cancer.
Bartholin’s cysts that are not painful and not infected do not require treatment. If an abscess develops, your gynecologist may recommend soaking in a warm bath three to four times a day to encourage rupture and drainage.
Surgical incision and drainage of Bartholin’s abscess may be done using local anesthesia or under general anesthesia in a hospital setting. During the procedure, the abscess is opened and a small catheter is inserted to promote drainage. The catheter may remain in place up to six weeks. Antibiotics may or may not be needed.
Most Bartholin’s abscesses respond well to treatment, but it is possible for the cysts to recur. Persistent or stubborn cysts are treated through marsupialization, an incision that creates a small permanent opening to promote drainage. Rarely, the Bartholin’s gland is surgically removed to prevent cyst recurrence.
It is not possible to prevent Bartholin’s cysts, but good hygiene can reduce the risk of infection and abscess. Gynecologists recommend practicing safe sex to lessen the chance of contracting a sexually transmitted infection.