Bartholin cyst or abscess
Bartholin abscess is the buildup of pus that forms a lump (swelling) in one of the Bartholin glands. These glands are found on each side of the vaginal opening.
Abscess - Bartholin; Infected Bartholin gland
A Bartholin abscess forms when a small opening (duct) from the gland gets blocked. Fluid in the gland builds up and may become infected. Fluid may build up over many years before an abscess occurs.
Often the abscess appears quickly over several days. The area will become very hot and swollen. Activity that puts pressure on the vulva, and walking and sitting, may cause severe pain.
Symptoms may include:
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will do a pelvic exam. The Bartholin gland will be enlarged and tender. A biopsy may be recommended in older women to look for a tumor, although this is very rare.
Any vaginal discharge or fluid drainage will be sent to a lab for testing.
Soaking in warm water 4 times a day for several days can ease the discomfort. It can also help the abscess open and drain on its own. However, the opening is often very small and closes quickly. Therefore, the abscess often returns.
DRAINAGE OF THE ABSCESS
A small surgical cut can completely drain the abscess. This relieves symptoms and provides the fastest recovery.
Antibiotics may be prescribed if there is pus or other signs of infection.
Women can also be treated with a minor surgical procedure called marsupialization.
Your provider may recommend that the glands be completely removed if abscesses keep coming back.
The chance of a full recovery is excellent. The abscesses return in about 1 in 10 cases.
It is important to treat any vaginal infection that is diagnosed at the same time as the abscess.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if:
Eckert LO, Lentz GM. Infections of the lower genital tract: vulva, vagina, cervix, toxic shock syndrome, endometritis, and salpingitis. In: Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Katz VL, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2012:chap 23.
Holtzman LC, Hitti E, Harrow J. Incision and drainage. In: Roberts JR, Hedges JR, eds. Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 37.
Review Date: 5/16/2016
Reviewed By: Irina Burd, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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