Discovery Health wrote that Bartholin glands are part of a woman's internal genitals. Located on each side of the labia minora (inner lips of the vaginal opening), they secrete small amounts of fluid when women are sexually aroused.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), if a flap of skin grows over one of the Bartholin glands’ openings, the fluid backs up. This causes a relatively painless swelling called a Bartholin gland cyst.
The cyst can range from penny size to bigger than an orange, although most don't get larger than a golf ball. WebMD added that cysts can get larger after sex, because the glands make more fluid.
If the cyst stays small and doesn’t get infected, it may go completely unnoticed. However Cigna said symptoms may include a painless lump and redness or swelling in the vulva area and discomfort when walking, sitting or having sex.
The Mayo Clinic reported that if the fluid within the cyst becomes infected, it forms an abscess. A number of bacteria may cause the infection, including common bacteria as well as bacteria that cause sexually transmitted diseases.
When this happens, Cigna listed symptoms to include a tender or painful lump near the vaginal opening; increasing pain that limits activities or occurs when walking, sitting, or having sex; fever and chills; and swelling in the vulva area.
Most Bartholin gland cysts don't need treatment or they disappear on their own. Treatment options depend on the severity of symptoms.
Some doctors, according to Cigna, recommend watchful waiting and nonprescription pain medicine. Symptoms are watched without using medical treatment.
AAFP wrote that in some cases, a small cyst is treated by soaking in a few inches of warm water (called a sitz bath) several times a day for three or four days. This allows the cyst to rupture and drain with little pain or discomfort.
Mayo Clinic said if the cyst is infected, antibiotics may be prescribed to destroy the bacteria causing the infection.
The most common way to treat a large or infected Bartholin gland cyst, said AAFP, is surgical drainage. Doctors make an incision and put a catheter into the cyst.