You might be reading this because you’re like me and you've had a Bartholin's cyst recently, currently, or long ago. Maybe you’ve never heard of them, or maybe your partner has one and you want to do a little homework. Whatever the case, you’ve come to the right place.
I’ve had many years of dealing with these little suckers and have gone from having very minor Bartholin’s cysts to eventually requiring surgery because of how bad mine got. If you’re looking for answers, I bet you’ll find them (or at least some) below. That being said, all the information is based on personal experience and research — I am not a doctor and you should always consult an actual medical professional. Hopefully, though, I can point you in the right direction. Let’s get into it.
What are Bartholin’s Cysts?
The Bartholin’s glands are two tiny glands located on both sides of the vaginal opening and probably the most overlooked MVPs our vagina has. Their purpose? They make us wet! And not just sexy wet — they help lubricate the skin to prevent chafing, dryness, and itching in our vulva.
Now, normally, the Bartholin’s glands are open ducts that keep everything running smoothly, but like all skin ducts, there’s potential for the openings to get blocked, and potentially infected. When these glands get clogged, the trapped fluids build up and create a hard marble-sized lump, or cyst, on the outside of our vagina (on either side of the opening).
Think of Bartholin’s cysts like pimples you get on your face. Most of us have had them and many come and go without much drama and sometimes even unnoticed. But when Bartholin's glands get infected, these bad boys raise hell — they can be extremely painful and, as in my case, require medical attention.
How do I know I have a Bartholin’s Cyst?
Because of their very specific location, Bartholin’s cysts are usually easy to self-diagnose. Grab a mirror and check out Mayo Clinic’s diagram of one to help confirm.
The cyst will feel like a hard bump on the hair-bearing part of your vulva, and is located on either side of the vaginal opening, usually only on one side. It may or may not be inflamed or painful and can range in size anywhere between a pea and a golf ball.
Aside from a tender or painful lump near your vaginal opening, other common symptoms of a Bartholin’s cyst include pain during sex, discomfort while walking or sitting (ugh yeah), and possibly a fever.
A Bartholin’s cysts will not look like an open sore, have a moist surface, cause cramps, painful urination or vaginal bleeding.
Why do I have a Bartholin’s cyst?
Like a lot of conditions related to vulvovaginal health, there’s no confirmed cause (or permanent treatment options) for Bartholin’s cysts. While I do encourage you to see a doctor, your doctor will likely know as much about Bartholin’s cysts as you will after a quick Google search, and you may have to play detective for yourself. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what I experienced every time I had a Bartholin’s cyst — multiple doctors, in multiple practices, over multiple years weren’t able to provide much information. (Doctors can, however, perform the lancing procedure if your cyst becomes infected — more on that below.)
I cannot reiterate enough how important it is to know and understand your body, so that you can arm yourself with the knowledge and language you need to advocate for yourself, whether that’s in the doctor’s office or between the sheets.
READ MORE: Learn the Difference Between Your Vulva & Vagina
It’s important to note that while gonorrhea or chlamydia may be an underlying cause, a Bartholin’s cyst is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and they’re not contagious — you can’t give one to your partner, and they can’t give one to you. They are, however, what doctors call “sexually associated,” meaning they can flare up due to sex, or whenever your vagina comes in contact with different surfaces and fluids. Quick reminder here to wash your toys after every single use and of course always, always practice safe sex.
I have a Bartholin’s Cyst. Now What?
So you have a Bartholin’s cyst. Welcome to the club. Depending on the amount of pain you’re dealing with, there are three directions you can take to help your body heal.
1. No pain
If you happened to discover your cyst by chance during a shower or sex, but it isn’t causing you any physical pain or discomort, keep an eye on it, but mostly just leave it be. Non-painful Bartholin’s cysts usually work themselves out. Whatever you do, don’t pick at it or pop it, no matter how tempted you may be. If you want to encourage it to burst or go down, soak in a hot bath with the Tonic. The warm water can help bring the pus to the surface while natural anti-inflammatories Cedarwood Virginia and Goldenseal supports your body’s natural ability to heal itself without disrupting pH balance, hormones, pheromones, or medication.
Do a balancing body soak: Shop Tonic
If you don’t have a tub, hold a hot compress on your vulva a few times a day and keep the area clean. The Hydrosol is a hands-free option post sweat or sex or anytime you want a quick refresh.
2. Mild pain
The cyst is giving you mild, but manageable grief. It might feel like an inflamed zit or gnarly ingrown hair. At this stage, your move is to take as many hot baths if you can. If you don’t have a bathtub, get a sitz bath. Seriously, they’re amazing, and do the job perfectly.
Fight inflammation and soothe irritated skin: Shop Salve
Depending on the kind of pain, and what sounds best for you, you can hold a hot water bottle or ice to the area to ease the pain. If you don’t have the time (or extra hands) to do that, you can also use cotton rounds soaked with the Tonic and slip it into your undies to soothe and cool the area courtesy of tea tree oil.
3. Extreme pain
The cyst is mad as hell, inflamed, large, and/or excruciating. This is most likely a sign of infection. An infection inside the cyst will need to be lanced by a doctor ASAP.
Call your local gynecologist, doctor, emergency room, or urgent care practice to get the earliest appointment you can. All the aforementioned should be able to complete the simple procedure. It’s not a surgery, and you will not need to go under anesthesia. They will lance and drain the cyst (immediate relief yay) and most likely insert a small catheter into the incision to encourage the last of the fluids to drain over the next few days.
How can I prevent Bartholin's cysts from coming back?
Again, not much is known about Bartholin’s cysts and they remain mysterious (mostly because research on vuvlovaginal health is waaaaay behind), and once you get one, you’re prone to getting them again (ugh). While there aren’t any surefire solutions, here’s what I found can help you heal.
- Shower or rinse off after sex
- Keep the area clean (but avoid harsh soaps and fragranced bathing products!)
- Refrain from wearing tight or stiff pants
- Wear 100% cotton underwear
- Sit on a hot water bottle
- Ice the area if you feel inflamed
- Hot compresses are your friend
- Cotton rounds soaked in witch hazel or the Tonic oil concentrate
Why are they making me feel so bad about myself? :(
A real bummer of vaginal infections and complications is the mental and emotional effects. Just like having a giant pimple on your face, Bartholin’s cysts can be physically painful, but they also can make us feel undesirable, low in self esteem, and just generally not ourselves.
It may prevent you from having sex, or being active out of fear of getting (another) one or infecting a current cyst. I promise you, Bartholin’s cysts are normal, and can affect anyone with a vulva once they’ve hit puberty (the Bartholin’s glands aren’t active until puberty, and slow down working once you’ve hit menopause.)
It’s difficult feeling sick and uncomfortable, especially when it comes to sexual wellness. There’s so much shame, guilt, or sadness surrounding our genitalia, even when they’re “healthy,” so when things aren’t running as usual, it’s easy for us to feel discouraged. I know this feeling painfully well. Use it as motivation to advocate for yourself and get the help and treatment you need, so you can get on the other side of it.
I get Bartholin’s cysts constantly or infrequently, but with extreme pain. HELP!
I hear you — I’ve been there, too. If you frequently get Bartholin’s cysts or they’re extremely painful, you can get a marsupialization surgery as a preventive measure, and a long term solution, just like I did. This surgery is usually a last resort, and basically consists of opening up the gland slightly and sewing it open, which creates a larger gland opening. The larger the gland, the easier it is for fluids to come out, and lessens the likelihood of it getting clogged and forming a cyst. Note that marsupialization surgery is different from the lancing procedure, which drains the fluid from the cyst.
Speaking from my own experience, the surgery may be done under general anesthesia (although it can also be localized) and while my procedure took about two hours, that time frame will range depending on the individual.
Recovery for me was a few days in bed, allll the Netflix, and about five baths a day. Beyond that, you should refrain from vigorous exercise for a few weeks and penetrative sex for about two months. Your doctor might prescribe antibiotics (I didn’t take any), and while a small amount of discharge or minor bleeding for a few weeks is normal, a pantyliner should suffice! I had marsupialization surgery three years ago, and I haven’t had a Bartholin cyst since! Best decision ever. If you’re struggling, I highly suggest looking into it.
CW: NSFW, brief mention of trauma, lancing procedure
Be warned, this video is graphic albeit very informative in helping you diagnose a Bartholin’s cyst and goes over common conditions that are often misdiagnosed as a Bartholin’s cyst, followed by lancing procedure.
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Momotaro Apotheca and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. All material on Momotaro Apotheca is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition.