Bartholin’s glands are two glands on either side of the opening to the vagina. They were first discovered in the 18th century by Caspar Bartholin the younger son of the Danish physician Thomas Bartholin, and were named after him.
The function of the Bartholin’s glands is to provide moisture to the vulva to prevent soreness. They also produce moisture when the woman is sexually aroused to make sexual intercourse more comfortable. Normally women cannot feel these glands.
If you feel a lump at the vulva and you start feeling pain during sexual intercourse, you might have a Bartholin’s cyst. This can occur when the duct that releases the fluid becomes blocked.
The cyst may be prone to infection. An abscess may occur if the cyst becomes infected. Some Bartholin’s cysts are small but they can become very large (even bigger than a golf ball).
Symptoms can vary and if the cyst is only small, you may not have any additional symptoms. Others include:
• A lump at one side of the vaginal opening
• Pain during intercourse
• Pain when walking or sitting down
• If the cyst has turned into an abscess, it will grow rapidly and become red in color and very painful to touch
• If the cyst is bigger or has turned into an abscess, you may get a fever and feel ill.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis is simple as a doctor can tell just by looking whether or not you have a Bartholin’s cyst. If you only have a small one and it isn’t infected, it may just be left as it is.
If you have an infection, you will be given a course of antibiotics. A blocked duct can recover without intervention.
If the abscess is large, you may need a minor operation to drain it as it may not respond properly to antibiotics alone. A small incision will be made into the abscess to allow the pus to drain out and a catheter is inserted to keep the area open so that the infection can continue to drain. This may prevent the abscess from recurring.
Sometimes the surgeon will attach the inside lining of the cyst to the overlaying skin to create a permanent new opening for the fluid to drain out.