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Female Anatomy

Bartholin Glands: If your vagina is a clock, it’s 4:40 right now


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


Jun 2, 2013

Original post published: 

* Content reviewed annually for accuracy 

  1. Kat says:


    I think you are miss leading your readers. Have you ever had a word catheter or a marsupialization? A catheter is by far an easier recovery and if its a reoccurring problem then you want to have the marsupialization done as this is more of a permanent fix. I had both and let me tell you that having the catheter was by far less painful then the marsupialization. I could walk normally and resume my normal life 8h after getting the catheter. After having the marsupialization I couldn’t sit for 6 days and standing up was absolutely painful. It felt like someone kept stabbing me over and over in the vagina. I would get 100 more catheter before I get another marsupialization done.

    • Sara Twogood says:

      Hi Kat,
      I’m sorry you have gone through this process twice. Your recovery from the marsupialization sounds much more dramatic than any of my patients. Thanks for sharing your experience and hopefully you won’t need marsupializations or word catheters ever again!

  2. Jenny says:

    I just found this lovely little number down there and paid a visit to the urgent care they dismissed it as an ingrown hair and gave me antibiotics. I ended up going the following day to the er. The ER Doctor inserted a word catheter which is sticking out of my vajayjay like a micro penis. The anesthetic they injected first didn’t work so I felt the whole thing,but luckily a lot of pus and blood came out when he opened it. it’s been 2 days and I’m still feeling A LOT of pain down there i still can’t sit it’s very tender. I’ve been doing the sitz baths and taking the antibiotic (cephlaxin) I just want to know if it is normal to be experiencing this much pain with the word catheter. I thought I was supposed to feel relief but I’m still hurting. They didn’t give me any pain medication so I’m worried that it isn’t supposed to hurt this bad.

    • Sara Twogood says:

      Hi Jenny! It sounds like you’re following all the correct instructions and experiencing a painful but normal recovery. If you have any doubts though, go see a gynecologist! She can examine you and make sure things are healing properly. Hang in there.

    • Brooke Ross says:

      Sounds like me the first week of having the word catheter I was in so much pain. Hurt to walk and sit. But after a week I stated to feel relief . But every now and again for three weeks I would be uncomfortable sitting.

  3. Alexandra Robinson says:

    I just got home from getting a word catheter to relieve an excruciatingly painful cyst. For the first time I went pee, and the pain was just as bad as having the infected cyst. I came online to find out tips to “going pee” and feel blessed to have come across your blog. It is informational, personal and easy to read.
    Any way, I just realized my Dr. didn’t give me any tips or information. I go back tomorrow for a checkup and can ask questions then, but I figured it was worth commenting now as I can’t imagine feeling like this through my appointment.
    #1…are there any suggestions on how to pee?
    #2…immediate ways to relieve any irregular or extraordinary pain that arises.
    #3…I heard to take showers over Sietz baths with the catheter. Do you feel strongly about 1 over the other?
    #4…what’s the removal process? Are there things to do to avoid the catheter coming out prematurely? What happens if it does come out?
    Thank you again for this blog!!! You are wonderful.

    • Alexandra, So sorry I didn’t respond in a timely manner to your concerns. I hope you’re feeling better and recovered. If you have anything to share about your healing process, please reach out again!

  4. Carly says:

    I recently had a word catheter placed, last night to be exact. I am having this extreme burning pain while urnitsing, it is so bad that I’ve been trying to avoid fluids all together so I do not have to go.. is this Normal ? And if there ANYTHING that can give me some relief while urinating ?

    • Hi Carly! Sorry you are having so much pain. It sounds like your urine is coming in contact with the incision they made to drain your cyst or abscess. This can be extremely painful. To minimize the contact, try leaning forward (like squatting when there’s no seat cover in a public toilet) and try to spread the front part of your labia when you pee (so the urine doesn’t come in contact with any skin -just goes straight into the toilet). These simple maneuvers may minimize the pain. Hope this helps!

  5. Julia says:

    Hello ladies, I got a bartholin cyst in mid October. At first I went to the ER and after deciding it was a bartholin cyst, they cut it open and drained it, only to tell me that it was all blood and therefore was NOT a bartholin cyst, but a hematoma. I went home feeling relieved, only to have it come back in 3 weeks. I went to a regular doctor who saw it and immedietly confirmed it was a bartholin cyst. They said I should see a specialist. I couldn’t see a specialist for a month. So, less than a month later, I went to an acute care center and they put in a word catheter because it was painful to sit and wear jeans. I was in excruciating pain for a week and couldn’t sit down, but the pain totally subsided after that. As far as the URINATING CONCERN—- It helps to put warm water in a cup and pour it at the same time that you pee in order to dilute the urine!!!! It worked about 90% of the time!!! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED LADES! Continuing the horror story, I went to the specialist as scheduled a week after it was placed, and she said they put it in the wrong place. GREAT, I thought. All of that for nothing. So I went to another doctor for a second opinion, who said it MIGHT be in the right place. Its been four weeks since they put it in and I’m getting it removed tomorrow. I hope I was able to help people understand more about the cathater placing process and how it does stop hurting after a week, promise! I have a friend who has it too, and she said the same thing, just wait 6 days or so and it stops hurting. My question is, what the heck happens when they remove it? They said I can have sex and go about my usual life, but that doesn’t sit well with me….. There will obviously be a hole where the drainer was sticking out of my vagina lips, so what if something gets in the hole and infects it? How long will it take for the hole to heal up and close? Help please.

  6. Julia says:

    Woah—– Just read your bio, Sara. I got went to the Good Samaritan hospital urgent care when they cut it and said it was a hematoma. I went to the USC main campus when they said it was a bartholin cyst, and I went to the main campus at USC acute care center to have a doctor there place the catheter. I saw a doctor at Keck a week later who said it was in the wrong place. That’s really cool that you have this thread for people. Thank you very much! I will be going to the USC main campus to have it removed tomorrow at the acute care center.

    • Hi Julia,
      You were hitting all my spots without actually seeing me! Hope the Bartholin’s abscess has resolved and you are doing better!

      • Julia says:

        Thanks for replying, Sara. Can you please recommend a doctor for me to see at USC? After having the baloon catheter in for a month, the cyst stayed away for only a month and a half. It is back again, and its very painful. Since this is round 3 trying to get rid of this, I am desperate for a good doctor with a lot of experience with them.

        • Hi Julia, Sorry this happened to you again! That’s awful. If the cyst is an abscess (warm to the touch, super painful, possibly with pus draining), then you should go to the ER or urgent care and have it drained and another balloon catheter or marsupialization performed. Then come see me. We will wait for the infection and abscess to clear and then plan a minor surgery so it doesn’t recur. Call my office and schedule an appt: (213)241-7250. We unfortunately can’t do the drainage in our office which is why I want you to be seen quickly in the ER to get you through this urgent time but follow up with me for definitive treatment.

  7. Stephanie Foley says:

    Hello there. My 22 year old daughter has been through hell and back the past 2 years with a Bartholin’s cyst. She is at the point where removing the gland seems like her only option. She had it marsupirlized last month, and it’s already recurred. Can you please recommend a surgeon in Los Angeles who can perform this surgery? We realize there are possible complications with the removal of the gland and are looking for a doctor who has experience with this specifically. Thank you very much!

    • Hi Stephanie!
      I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter. Bartholin’s cysts can be painful and definitely affect quality of life. I’m experienced with this surgery and am happy to see her in my office for a consult. My office phone number is (213) 241-7250. If there is any reason I can’t see her (such as insurance), please let me know and I can try to offer other suggestions.

  8. Andi says:

    I had a bartholin’s cyst for the first time in 2016. It was extremely painful and I had no idea what was wrong. I finally went to my gyno who told me what it was and once it drained I was fine and pain free. I had no recurrence until 6 months ago. I have my third one now in 6 months. The other two were drained and today I got a surgical consult for total removal of the gland. She recommends it I’ve the catheter based on how many recurrences I have had and so close together. The surgeon didn’t want to drain the cyst I currently have saying it makes it easier to remove the gland during surgery. Is that normal? I am scared, not just of the surgery itself but the recovery and the aftermath. Will sex be painful? Will lubrication be less? Will the other gland start to have issues? I’ve read a lot on the internet (I know, probably not the best idea) but I’m trying to find out more info.

    • Andi says:

      The surgeon recommended not having the catheter because of the number of recurrences and their frequency.

    • Sara Twogood says:

      Hi Andi,
      Before doing any surgery we expect patients to have questions – all of these are good questions! You should absolutely discuss your concerns and your questions with your doctor before agreeing to surgery! I don’t drain a cyst before I remove it. In general, women don’t feel less lubrication if they’ve had one Bartholin’s gland removed and it’s not common to have issues with both sides.
      Hope this helps!
      Dr. Twogood

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