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What is a Bartholin Cyst?

written by: Emma Lloyd • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 6/26/2010

Cyst formation in the Bartholin glands located at the entrance to the vagina is often asymptomatic, but in some cases minor surgical treatment may be required.

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    The Bartholin Gland

    Located on either side of the vaginal opening near the labia minora, the Bartholin glands secrete fluid which helps keep the vulva lubricated. Healthy Bartholin glands are around the size of a pea and cannot be felt or palpated.

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    Causes of Bartholin Cysts

    A cyst may form over a Bartholin gland if the gland becomes covered over for some reason. One common cause of a Bartholin cyst is when a flap of skin grows over the gland, preventing fluid secretion. The Bartholin cyst can get fairly large and may grow to the size of a golf ball. Larger cysts can cause considerable discomfort and pain, especially when walking or during sex.

    Infection of the cyst is not common. In some cases, however, the Bartholin cyst may become infected, or a bacterial infection may itself cause the formation of a cyst. In these situations an abscess may form. The source of the infection may be sexually transmitted, but more often the bacteria causing the infection are a species normally present on the skin.

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    Bartholin Cyst Treatment

    Treatment for Bartholin cysts depends mostly on how large the cyst is, whether it is infected, and the degree of pain it is causing.

    If the cyst is small and is not causing any discomfort, it may be monitored for growth rather than treated. For these types of cysts, the recommended treatment may be a sitz bath, in which the cyst is soaked in warm water several times a day over a few days. This treatment will cause a small cyst to rupture and drain fairly painlessly.

    One problem with the above treatment is that the Bartholin cyst may recur at a later date. There are two minor procedures a doctor can perform that reduce the risk of a recurrent episode.

    • One option is for the doctor to make a small incision in the cyst and insert a catheter. The catheter stays in place for around four weeks, and allows the cyst to drain freely.

    • Alternatively a doctor may perform a minor procedure called a marsupialization. In this procedure a small incision is made in the cyst, and stitches are placed to form a small hole that allows the cyst to drain properly.

    If a Bartholin cyst continues to recur despite these treatments, one final option is surgical removal of the problematic gland. Laser surgery is another option, although this is still experimental and relatively rare.

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    Sources

    FamilyDoctor: Bartholin’s Gland Cyst

    Omole, F., Simmons, B., and Hacker, Y. Management of Bartholin's Duct Cyst and Gland Abscess. American Academy of Family Physicians.

    The Mayo Clinic: Bartholin Cyst