Bartholin glands. You probably will never hear about this lady part until there’s something wrong with yours.
And only about 2-3% of women have problems with their Bartholin glands, so this might be the only time you ever hear they even exist!
Your Bartholin glands sit right next to your vagina. There’s two of them – if your vagina is a clock, your Bartholin glands are the 4 and the 8. They’re very small (less than 0.5 cm) and have the glamorous job of secreting mucus for vaginal lubrication.
The more common problem is a Bartholin gland cyst. You might not even notice it’s there because most are asymptomatic. You may have a bulge on the side of your vagina and you’re not sure what it is. It doesn’t hurt, but it can be uncomfortable, especially the larger ones (4cm or more). You might notice it more during intercourse. Usually only 1 side is affected at a time, so if you see or feel a lump on one side of your vulvar area, you can ask your doctor if you have this cyst.
The more annoying problem is when the duct or cyst becomes infected – called a Bartholin duct abscess. The infection is usually polymicrobial – meaning many different types of bacteria are responsible. Most of these bacteria are usually harmless and live in your vagina without causing problems. Less than a third of the infections are caused by sexually transmitted infections, which is the burning question (who gave this to me!??) when women have any infection of their lady parts.
These abscesses hurt really really bad. Women are unable to walk or even sit comfortably … and forget about sex. The side of your vagina, once again, at 4 or 8 o’clock, is red and tender and swollen. You might even notice pus draining from the tender site.
Both problems – the cyst or the abscess – can be treated with a procedure that drains the cyst or abscess. We then use a little catheter or stitches to hold the drainage site open for a few weeks. Yes, a few weeks. Yes, I know it sounds awful. I would recommend seeing an obgyn for this, even though emergency room doctors sometimes do the procedure themselves if you end up in the emergency room.
With a cyst that’s asymptomatic, your doctor may recommend just watching it. With an abscess, believe me, you’ll want treatment right away.
Anywhere between 3-20% of women have recurrent Bartholin abscesses, which, as you can imagine, can completely take over your life. Your chance of recurrence depends on the procedure you went through to get rid of the first one. The procedure with stitches (called marsupialization) has a higher recurrence rate, but recovery is quicker and easier compared to the catheter treatment. Your doctor will recommend one or the other. In women with recurrent abscesses, surgical removal of the entire duct is usually recommended once the inflammation calms down (the surgery is less gruesome than you are probably imaging).
The last, very rare, problem of the Bartholin duct is cancer. We’re talking less than 1 in 1,000,000 women. To be safe, your doctor may recommend a biopsy if you are 35 or older and have a cyst or abscess (don’t worry, it will be done at the same time as the treatment).
Source: UptoDate: Disorders of Bartholin gland