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Female Anatomy

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

Georgia

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

ADD A COMMENT

Jun 2, 2013

Original post published: 

* Content reviewed annually for accuracy 

  1. Kat says:

    Hi,

    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.

    • Julia says:

      LADIES*** not LADES, haha.

      • DW says:

        Hi I’m 16 and I had a bartholin cyst rupture down there. At first it didn’t rupture all the way and got infected. I went to urgent care after waiting in the er for 5 hours with no help. They looked at it and told me what it was and everything. They gave me antibiotics and they seem to be helping a lot. There was like something hanging off my area so I went back to the doctor and they said it was the cyst sac. A lot of white pjs was coming out of the area for hours but I found out that it was just from the drainage. I’ve been using an ice pack and a warm wash cloth with a heating pad on top to help with the swelling and the pain. Both seem to be working but peeing is terrible. I’ve tried peeing like in the shower so the water could run over it but it hurts even worse. When it was really swollen I was able to spread down there n pee without most of the pain. Now that the swelling has gone down I can’t and I don’t know what to do. I’ve been drinking less so I don’t have to pee as often but then again I don’t wanna get dehydrated. I’m not sure what to do so I’ve just been peeing n taking the pain but I’m scared that it’ll get infected again if it keeps coming in contact with the urine. How long does the pain usually last? How long untill I can pee without feeling like someone is slicing me open.

  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.

          • Pretty perez says:

            Hello so I had reoccurring bartholin cyst for over 3yrs now been trying to treat it at home through apple cider vinegar and sitz bath but it got too much I had to go meet a doctor they conducted a minor surgery (marsupialization) and God it hurts like hell I’ve been trying to sit gradually now I just wanna know how long it takes to heal completely cause the discomfort is too much it feels like sumthjnhs stabbing my vagina over and over again

  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

  9. Sharlotte Billings says:

    I had my Barthlonin gland removed 12/14/2021. It has been extremely painful. The doctor prescribed 6 opiod pills after surgery. I ran out yesterday. I called the Gyno office and the dr returned my call finally. I told her of the burning, stabbing pain and how I can only lie down and cannot sit whatsoever. She concluded the pain pills were not effective and prescribed Gabapentin 800mg 3xs a day along with lidocaine gel to rub on it. After using the gel and the gabapentin I have felt no relief. I’m beginning to think a suture is poking me because of the stabbing pain.
    I am 44 years old and have had a few surgeries in the past. This surgery has far outweighed any other surgery I have had in regards to pain. I cannot wait until I heal enough to be able to sit up.

    • Leesa J says:

      How are you feeling now. I had marsupialization last weel and I am feeling the same way. I can’t sit down hurt to walk and I have to lay down a certain way or I will be in excruciating pain. I pray it gets better

      • Diana says:

        I had the full gland removal on June 1st , and as of today (September 6th), i am still not 100%. I also had a partial hysterectomy. The gland removal recovery has been horrible. Peeing is still an issue, and forgot intercourse. Wondering how you are now and if you experienced this too?

  10. Kristin says:

    Hi All,

    I had bartholin cyst that was rained twice inu OB’s office and each time it was drained it came back angry. Especially after she inserted the catheter which didn’t even last 24 hrs in me and was the most painful thing to have to deal with in such a short amount of time. Finally, after the OB referred me to a specialist, and the specialist recommended removal because of the size of the cyst and the amount of unsuccessful times after it being drained. I had my gland completely removed on 12/08. First week after surgery was the most painful and uncomfortable recovery next to knee surgery. I was so swollen I couldn’t wear any panties, sitting, laying down, walking, bending it was all painful. I would ice to bring the stabbing and throwing pain down. Second week, was a little better, started to walk more and do more and moves from doing ice to doing arnica bath sitz, which helped to bring a lot of the swelling down. During the second week I got my period, and the shooting pains i got in my vajayjay with cramps were not fun. Now I’m going into my 3rd week, and swelling is down, however my vajayjay is super tender/sensitive on the side of where the glad was removed, the swelling has gone down, but now I have this hard scar tissue (which is what the Dr said) and I hope it goes away. I’m just curious as to how and if the scar tissue will go away, how long does the sensitive vajayjay last, and how will it all function down there during sex. I have found very few, if none, information on the internet and feel that this is such a common problem with women and it should be shared and discussed more.

  11. Marie says:

    I felt my Bartholin cyst develop over a week. It was suddenly grape-sized and walking and sitting were painful. Thank goodness I read some of the posts as I was in agony and going to go to the doctor. I was cured naturally with the use of herbs formula I purchase from (worldrehabilitateclinic. com), within a period of 3 months I was cured.

  12. AM says:

    I just had my bartholin gland removed last week. Finding information online about this surgery is incredibly hard and people seem to be confusing lancing, marsupilization, and excision. Excision is the last option and the most painful with the longest recovery. Go to a OB-GYN oncologist for an excision, as they are the most knowledgeable and experienced with the procedure and trained to handle this kind of thing. Thankfully, my normal OB referred me to an oncologist for this exact reason and I had zero complications other than the horrific amount of pain I’m still in during recovery. Lancing a cyst is a walk in the park compared to an actual excision. Ladies, find the right surgeon and someone who is aware of the pain levels that come with this sort of surgery- you’ll thank yourself a million times over getting it done by a specialist.

  13. Tt says:

    Hi there i had a marsupilization done three times twice on the left side once in the right and for the first two times i had no reoccurrence s then suddenly it came back as a painless swelling on the left when i took it to my doctor she immediately said i needed to do surgery and it was scheduled everything went well i ddnt feel any pain afterwards thank God !!! The recovery was okay and i took about 6-7 weeks to have sex because i had regular check ins with my doctor to see if i had healed properly so i waited for the ok from her to start but for the most part i had gone through an embarrassing 2-3 years with cysts and each time id get them theyd hurt sooo much and just burst on their own theres this one time infact the first one i ever got …it burst in the car with my boyfriend and his friends and like the smell ,the excruciating pain before it did in the hospital parking lot because he kept asking what was hurting and i kept saying my leg because i was afraid of telling him i had a big boil looking swelling down there probably one of the most embarrassing moments in my
    life long story cut short i moved from one hospital to the other till i found this one lady that did the marsupialization and its been about 5years without one i pray it stays the same but sometimes i see puss come out of the slits they left i dont know if it’s because they drain by themselves im guessing thats why they left them open so each time its about to happen it just drains …this all worries me and its much better than a painful abscess but will my vag ever be normal again or i have to always look out for those days when it randomly drains and its kind of affected how i see sex and feel about myself…

  14. Megan says:

    I had a word catheter place last summer July. Now my gland cyst is back and I’m heading into another dr appointment about this. Why do they came back?

    Sincerely Megan from NC

    • JQ says:

      They recur because the catheter only allows it to heal from the inside. The intrinsic problem with the Bartholin gland is the duct gets blocked or obstructed and that’s what develops a cyst. So even if you’re cyst is “healed from the inside” with the catheter, the duct can get blocked again and develop a cyst or abscess. The next option if it recurs is marsupialization (leaving a permanent hole and bypassing the duct) so that it doesn’t develop into a cyst. Then if it still recurs, they will recommend to take it out

  15. James Bell says:

    It’s also crucial to learn as much as you can about your diagnosis. Seek options, Find out about what’s out there that could help, You can purchase herbs from: ( World Rehabilitate Clinic com.

  16. Marshall R says:

    I’m having bartholin gland removal surgery on Monday 6/20/22. On May 3, 2022 I woke up with a lump I’d never had before. Saw a regular gyno the next day. He treated it as a cyst but also ran a bunch of tests and explained to me that it has all the characteristics of cancer. I went back 2 weeks later and he went over all my test results and examined me again. Then explained that he was referring me to a gynecological oncologist (vagina cancer doctor) because he wanted a second opinion due to the fact that he believed it is cancer and I needed it removed immediately in his opinion. I have never had any problems whatsoever with cysts nor did I even know the bartholin gland existed until a month and a half ago. I went to the doctor he recommended and sure enough he agreed that it’s cancer and they’re doing the removal surgery in a few days 6/20/2022 as I said before. I’ll come back and give an update soon. Good luck ladies!!

  17. Marshall R says:

    Oh I’m 41. In case anyone was wondering. Only 41!! Cancer!!! 🥺 not me!!

  18. Dar says:

    Hi,
    My story sounds n the same as many others here! Nothing for 52 years and then out if the blue this horrific, life changing infected blocked duct & gland.
    I just had the gland removed and another cyst behind it on May, 20, 2022. Turns out they were not cancerous! I have had 4 reconstructive foot ankle surgeries and they were nothing compared to this horrible surgery. The doctors downplay the recovery because no one will have it done! I am able to walk, stand for a little now and sit for short periods of times. I still have swelling and I am numb on half of my vagina and crease between my leg. Feeling May never came back. 100
    times better than a month ago. Oncologist dismissed me. I was searching to see if this is normal. Thanks

  19. Lucia says:

    Hi
    I had a gland removed on 06/28. The first weeks, I was swollen and numb at surgery area and a lot of pain. My thigh on the opposite side has been numb since the surgery. I was told it’s nerve damage from the way your legs get positioned during surgery. It’s been a month and a half and some days I have stabbing pain all the way to my butt. I still have some numbness on my lip, and hard scar tissue. In addition, since the day of the surgery, I have this particular odor down there,
    even the moment I get out of the shower, weird. I hope all this go away soon.

  20. Anonymous says:

    After experiencing recurring cysts, I decided on surgical removal of the gland. The procedure was done March 2022.

    Now every time my cycle comes, the pain is excruciating. The procedure site leaks blood a few days before my period starts. It’s hard to sit or walk. My surgeon says everything looks “beautiful”. I wish I could get in a time machine and reverse this decision.

    Have you’ve heard of others having similar issues so long after surgery? Also with possible clots coming out of the incision. Outside of my cycle, I have not experienced issues with recovering.

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