Abscess - Bartholin; Infected Bartholin gland; Bartholin's 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.
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:
The health care provider will do a pelvic exam. The Bartholin gland will be enlarged and tender. In rare cases, a biopsy may be suggested in older women to look for a tumor.
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.
You may be asked to have antibiotics if there is pus or other signs of infection.
Women can also be treated with a minor surgery 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 may return in few cases.
It is important to treat any vaginal infection that is diagnosed at the same time as the abscess.
Call your provider if:
Ambrose G, Berlin D. Incision and drainage. In: Roberts JR, Custalow CB, Thomsen TW, eds. Roberts and Hedges' Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine and Acute Care. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 37.
Dolan MS, Hill C, Valea FA. Benign gynecologic lesions: vulva, vagina, cervix, uterus, oviduct, ovary, ultrasound imaging of pelvic structures. In: Gershenson DM, Lentz GM, Valea FA, Lobo RA, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 18.
Smith RP. Bartholin gland cyst/abscess drainage. In: Smith RP, ed. Netter's Obstetrics and Gynecology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 251.
Tuggy ML. Bartholin cyst and abscess: word catheter insertion marsupialization. In: Fowler GC, ed. Pfenninger and Fowler's Procedures for Primary Care. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 118.BACK TO TOP
Review Date: 4/19/2022
Reviewed By: John D. Jacobson, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda, CA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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