Last updated: June 16, 2021
Richard Honaker M.D.
Primary Care Physician
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Bartholin’s cyst: the discovery of a painful lump in the vaginal area may have you wondering if you could have an STI or STD. Here is what Your Doctors wants you to know.
What is a Bartholin Cyst?
The human body is full of glands. The glands throughout your body produce and release different secretions.
The Bartolin’s gland is located on each side of the labia which are located outside of the vaginal opening. The function of this gland is to produce lubrication for the vagina.
This lubrication fluid exits the gland through small tubes called Bartholin ducts. When this process becomes disrupted a Bartholin’s cyst can form. When the duct becomes blocked, the gland will become filled with fluid and a cyst will form.
From Cyst to Abscess
The cyst can vary in size. In some cases a woman may not even realize she has a cyst. In more extreme cases the cyst may feel tender or even become infected. A pus-filled cyst is called an abscess.
When the cyst becomes infected, pus can form within the inflamed tissue. This infection can cause the area to become swollen and tender to the touch. In fact, the pain from an infected Bartholin cyst can cause activities such as intercourse and walking to become painful.
Why do Bartholin’s Cysts Form?
There are many potential reasons that a woman may experience a Bartholin’s cyst. A Bartholin cyst can form as a result of an injury, swelling, or even thicker mucus. These potential changes to a woman’s vaginal area can potentially cause a blockage in the Bartholin ducts that results in a Bartholin cyst.
However, when a Bartholin cyst becomes an abscess it is through infection. These types of infections can be caused by a number of bacteria, but the usual culprit is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Gonorrhea and chlamydia are often to blame.
Are Bartholin Cysts an STI?
While the bacteria from a sexually transmitted infection can cause a Bartholin cyst to become infected, the cyst itself is caused by a blockage in your Bartholin ducts. So while some of the symptoms (and the area they are occuring!) may be similar to an STI, a Bartholin cyst is not transmitted sexually.
Which STIs or STDs can cause a Bartholin’s Abscess?
It is possible for STIs and STDs, such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, to cause the infections that create a Bartholin’s abscess. The result is swelling, redness, difficulty or discomfort in movement and a potential fever.
Gonorrhea is an STD that can be transmitted to and affects both men and women. Gonorrhea is the most commonly reported notifiable disease in the United States.
In 2018, a total of 583,405 cases of gonorrhea were reported in the United States. Gonorrhea has the potential to cause infections in the genitals, rectum, and throat area.
It is a very common infection that is likely to affect younger women who are sexually active. Women can get gonorrhoea by having vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who is a carrier of the disease.
Gonorrhea can cause much more than just an infected Bartholin’s cyst. It is caused by a bacteria that is spread through sexual contact. While many people with gonorrhea experience no symptoms, it can cause infections throughout the body.
Just like Gonorrhea, Chlamydia is another STD that can cause infections in Bartholin’s cysts. Chlamydia is caused by a bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatis, which can infect both men and women.
Each year about three million people are infected with chlamydia, making it one of the most prevalent STD in the world.
Younger women who are sexually active, don’t consistently use a condom, or have multiple partners are at a higher risk of getting infected. Women can get chlamydia in the cervix, rectum, or throat.
In addition to other problems, it can cause serious damage to a woman’s reproductive system. It can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility (from scar tissue in the fallopian tubes) and problems such as ectopic pregnancy.
According to the World Health Organization, across the world, over 1 million sexually transmitted infections are acquired daily. Hence, it is important to be aware of these infections and diseases to be able to treat and prevent them.
Am I at Risk to Develop a Bartholin Cyst?
Bartholin cysts are most likely to occur in sexually active women during their reproductive years. For most women, they are most likely to occur in their 20’s and 30’s.
The reason that Bartholin cysts occur during your reproductive years is because the Bartholin gland does not begin to function until a girl reaches puberty. In addition, many women experience genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM). This term refers to a collection of symptoms that occur during menopause, including a lack of lubrication during intercourse. The Bartholin gland is responsible for providing lubrication to the vagina. If the gland reduces function during menopause it make sense it is less likely to form a cyst.
Bartholin cysts occur in about 3% of all women. However, women who use condoms are less likely to develop an infected Bartholin cyst.
How do I know if I have a Bartholin’s cyst?
Some women will have Bartholin cysts and never know it. This is because the cysts can vary in size from being extremely small to a noticeably large lump. The symptoms associated with a Bartholin cyst vary depending on whether or not your cyst is infected.
A Bartholin Cyst will be:
A small to large mass that is not painful. It may be slightly red and located near the vaginal opening.
A Bartholin Abscess will be:
A painful mass with visible swelling and inflammation. You may experience a fever and/or drainage from your cyst. You may even experience pain during everyday activities such as walking, sitting or moving around.
Related: How to prevent bartholin cysts
Is it true Bartholin Cysts can heal naturally?
Bartholin cysts are able to heal naturally when there is no infection present. Remember, many small cysts often go undetected by women. If the cyst is painless and no other symptoms are reported, medical professionals advise to let it heal naturally without any intervention.
Women may be advised to take over the counter pain relievers if they experience mild discomfort.
It is also advised to avoid sexual activity until the area is healed and to keep the area clean. You can encourage healing and discomfort by soaking in warm water.
It may seem surprising but sometimes Bartholin cysts do not require treatment. If the cyst is painless and no other symptoms are reported, medical professionals advise to let it heal naturally without any intervention.
When should I consult a doctor?
While Bartholin cysts are often harmless and heal on their own without medical intervention-you still need to speak to a doctor. If you feel a lump or mass near the opening of your vagina it is important to determine if the mass is a cyst or another medical issue. This is particularly important if you’ve hit menopause. A cervical screening test can also be used by your doctor to confirm the diagnosis. In rare cases, more often in women over 40, your doctor may need to do a biopsy to rule out Bartolin’s gland cancer.
If you suspect that your cyst may be infected (due to swelling, draining or fever) it is important to make an appointment with your healthcare provider. They can swab the area and determine what type of bacteria is causing the infection.
How is it treated?
The treatment plan for Bartholin cyst will vary depending on the type of Bartholin cyst, degree of infection and pain level you are experiencing. A common course of treatment is to be prescribed antibiotics. The antibiotics work to both fight the infection and reduce the inflammation.
In some cases, the cyst may need to be drained. Your doctor may use a needle to drain the cyst. When this is done, your doctor may also clean the cavity with a 70% alcohol liquid solution to prevent future infection.
In some cases a word catheter is inserted and inflated to drain the cyst. Your doctor can leave the catheter in for between two and four weeks to help drain the fluid.
Another option is to have the cyst drained and vaporized with a carbon dioxide laser. This treatment is considered effective but expensive and can require multiple treatments.
Your doctor may consider a more permanent treatment option. This is done through a surgical process called marsupialization. This is when a small incision is made in the cyst. The doctor will place a few stitches on either side of the incision to help drain the fluid through a small, permanent opening.
In rare cases, when other treatments have not been effective, your doctor may recommend a gland excision. This is a surgical procedure where the Bartholin gland and duct are surgically removed. This is usually only done as a last resort when other treatment options are not effective.
How do I prevent being infected?
Although there is no sure shot way of preventing the infection, there are a few precautions that you can take to reduce the chances of being infected.
Firstly, the key to keeping infections at bay is indulging in safe sex practices. It is advisable to use condoms to reduce your chances of being infected when it comes to STIs and STDs. Another precautionary measure is maintaining good hygiene. Good personal hygiene can not only prevent bacterial infections but also help a Bartholin’s cyst heal faster.
Lastly it is important to be aware of your sexual health and get in touch with your doctor to ensure that you do not have any STIs or STDs, particularly if you are sexually active.
If you have any questions about sexual health, Bartholin’s cyst or STDs, feel free to get in touch with our online doctors today and share your questions.
At Your Doctor’s Online, we are committed to ensuring that you always have a direct channel of communication with qualified physicians.
Disclaimer: This article provides general information and is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or medical condition. If you require specific advice, please consult one of our medical professionals through the app. However, in case of an emergency, please call 911.
About Richard Honaker M.D.
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