Bartholin’s cyst: Causes, treatment, and symptoms

A Bartholin’s cyst, or Bartholin’s duct cyst, occurs when the duct of the Bartholin’s gland is blocked, resulting in the development of a fluid-filled cyst.

It may sometimes be caused by an infection, but a Bartholin’s cyst is not an infection.

The Bartholin glands are situated between the vagina and the vulva (the external part of the female genitals) and produce a fluid that helps reduce friction during sex. They are not normally visible to the naked eye.

Thomas Bartholin (1616-1680), a Danish physician, mathematician, and theologian, was the first person to describe these glands, hence their name. He was best known for his work in the discovery of the lymphatic system in humans.

Fast facts on Bartholin’s cyst

Bartholin’s cysts can cause pain or discomfort, but they are not life-threatening.

Not all Bartholin’s cysts require treatment.

Bartholin’s cysts are commonly small and have no presentable symptoms, meaning diagnosis can be delayed until medical examination.

Causes

A picture of a condom in the wrapper
Barrier-method birth control, such as condoms, can help prevent Bartholin’s cysts.

The Bartholin’s glands, also known as the major vestibular glands, are a pair of glands between the vagina and the vulva that produce lubrication when stimulated.

Along with the lesser vestibular glands, they aid in sexual intercourse by reducing friction.

The lubricating fluid goes from the Bartholin’s glands down tiny tubes (ducts) which are about 0.8 inches (2cm) long into the lower part of the entrance to the vagina.

If there is a blockage in these ducts, the lubricant builds up. The ducts expand and a cyst is formed. This is a Bartholin’s cyst. When the cyst is formed, there is a risk of infection in the area, and a subsequent abscess.

A woman is more likely to have a Bartholin gland cyst when she is:

young and sexually active

has not yet become pregnant

has just had one pregnancy

Cysts can range in size from that of a lentil to a golf ball. Although Bartholin’s cysts are not sexually transmitted, gonorrhea (a sexually transmitted disease) is a common cause.

A cyst is a closed sac-like structure full of liquid, which can be semisolid or include gas.

A bacterial infection may cause the blockage and subsequent cyst.

Examples include:

gonococcus, which causes gonorrhea

Chlamydia trachomatis, which causes chlamydia

Escherichia coli, which can affect water supply and cause hemorrhagic colitis

Streptococcus pneumonia, which can cause pneumonia and middle ear infections

Haemophilus influenzae (HIB), which can cause ear infections, and respiratory infections

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Treatment

If the cyst is small and presents no symptoms, the doctor may recommend no treatment, but the patient will be asked to report any growth in the size of the cyst.

Any lump in the vaginal area should be reported, especially if the patient has started the menopause.

If treatment is offered, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics.

Sometimes minor surgery is recommended.

This will involve:

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