Surgery to remove your Bartholin’s glands is actually the best option for treating recurring problems and finding long-term relief from Bartholin’s cysts. It’s also the most efficient preventive measure against cancer for menopausal women who have them. Because these glands secrete natural lubrication in your vagina, if removed, you may not enjoy sexual intercourse without first applying lubricants or moisturizers. You are also at risk of feeling more pain due to infection, bleeding, and bruising after surgery. Soaking in sitz baths, wearing breathable cotton underwear, and taking pain medicines may help you with post-surgical pain.
Women are always sensitive about what’s going on down there. Pain that comes from the vagina or a growing cyst on your Bartholin’s glands is just on another level of suffering. You’d want to trade everything to make it go away.
While many alternative treatments are available in the market, if the cause of the pain won’t budge, you’re left with surgery as your last option.
Below, we’ll talk more about nature, home remedies, treatments, and the pros and cons of removing Bartholin’s glands.
What are Bartholin’s glands?
Bartholin’s glands are two small organs found on either side of the labia on the vaginal opening in a woman’s genitalia. These glands secrete fluid that lubricates and moistens your vulva and the vagina, essential for mutually-pleasurable sex.
The Bartholin glands each have tiny tubes called the Bartholin ducts, which serve as the passageway for lubrication. These ducts release extra amounts of fluid when you’re particularly aroused to ready yourself for a safe and smooth penetration.
What is a Bartholin’s cyst?
When you hear the term “cyst,” it makes you think of a sac-like or a fleshy lump that can grow anywhere in your body, usually on or under the skin.
These not-so-pleasant, mostly scary, fleshy lumps contain fluid, air, or other substances that often form due to duct blockage resulting from trauma, injury, infection, or hereditary diseases.
A cyst on your Bartholin glands may grow if the ducts that secrete the fluids are blocked due to an injury or bacterial infection. Fluid may build up when this happens, which will expand the ducts forming the Bartholin’s cysts.
Bartholin’s cyst can grow about a pea-size on one or both of your glands, which may be unnoticeable and painless or become as large as a marble.
Causes of Bartholin’s cyst or abscess
Your Bartholin’s glands can grow a cyst and become infected, resulting in an abscess or pus on the head of the cyst. These could result from several bacteria. Most are sexually transmitted, including the following:
- Neisseria gonorrhoeae – Causes gonorrhea, is a common type of sexually-transmitted disease
- Chlamydia trachomatis – Causes chlamydia
Sometimes, Bartholin’s cyst can result from your immune response to bacteria like the following:
- Escherichia coli – Which you can get from eating contaminated food or water, causing hemorrhagic colitis
- Streptococcus pneumoniae – Cause infections in the lungs, ears, sinuses, brain, and spinal cord tissue.
- Haemophilus influenzae – Can cause ear infections, respiratory, and bloodstream infections
What are the symptoms of Bartholin’s cyst?
Small Bartholin’s cyst can be painless and may not give you any symptoms. They are usually undetectable unless you receive an examination for other reproductive health concerns.
When infection occurs, it can cause discomfort and become painful, especially during sexual intercourse or even with simple movements like walking and sitting down.
Infection occurs when bacteria enter the cyst and form pus resulting in a Bartholin’s abscess. Below are some of the most common symptoms when an abscess occurs:
- Tender and painful lump in the vulva
- A sensation of heat from the area
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Rupturing and leakage of pus
Home remedies for Bartholin’s cyst
Home remedies may relieve discomforts due to a small Bartholin’s cyst and provide short-term relief from abscessed cysts.
Remember that each treatment may not be as effective for you as for other patients. It’s essential to check with your doctor before undergoing any treatments.
1. Sitz baths
Ask anybody who had Bartholin’s cysts. Surely, they’ve done sitz baths more than they could count.
First, you need a sitz bath. If none are available, use the bathtub. Fill it up with a few inches of warm water and add a spoon of Epsom salt.
If prescribed, use an antiseptic solution. Soak yourself or sit down in the water for 15 minutes. Repeat this 3-4 times a day for at least 3-4 days or until your symptoms subside.
Soaking yourself in a sitz bath is really helpful in easing pain and discomfort from Bartholin’s cysts. It may also cause small abscesses to rupture and drain on their own.
2. Apply warm compress
Soak a flannel or cotton wool ball in hot water, then apply it gently, with pressure on the cyst.
Before applying, make sure the temperature of the cotton ball is tolerable to avoid burning or irritating your skin.
3. Take over-the-counter pain medications
Take your trusted OTC pain relievers and fever medications which includes the following:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
- Naproxen (Aleve)
You shouldn’t take two medications at once unless prescribed by your doctor. Make sure that you’re taking these drugs with your doctor’s consent.
Drinking plenty of fluids and getting enough rest is essential for pain and fever recovery.
Call your doctor immediately if your temperature doesn’t lower after taking medicines or shoots up (exceeds 38 °F or 102°F) for the next 3 days.
4. Apply topical treatments
Some patients effectively treated their Bartholin abscesses with natural topical treatments. Although there’s a lack of scientific evidence with these topical treatments, it’s still worth a try.
Below are some of these commonly used topical treatments for cysts:
1. Tea tree oil and castor oil
Apply a good amount of tea tree oil and castor oil into your Bartholin’s cyst using clean gauze. Place a hot compress over the gauze and hold it with gentle pressure for about 15 minutes. These may encourage drainage from abscesses.
Tea tree oil has beneficial antibacterial properties.
2. Apple cider vinegar (ACV)
Dilute the apple cider vinegar with water and soak a cotton ball in the solution. Then, gently apply it to your Bartholin’s cyst.
Apple cider vinegar has antimicrobial activities and may help with your cyst to a limited extent only.
4. Aloe Vera
Make sure to use only trusted products with pure aloe vera ingredients.
Apply a good amount of pure aloe vera gel, cream, or lotion directly on the cyst to relieve pain and irritation.
Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that may reduce the appearance of your cyst and get rid of certain bacteria causing its growth.
Draining a Bartholin’s cyst or abscess
Medical treatments are necessary for infected Bartholin’s cyst.
These include taking an entire course of antibiotics or applying penicillin ointment to the abscessed cyst if prescribed.
Your doctor may still recommend drainage of the cyst, especially if the abscess is large.
Below are some of the procedures that your doctor may recommend:
1. Balloon catheter insertion
Your doctor will first put you in local or general anesthesia and perform a cut on the abscess or cyst to drain the fluid.
Then, a balloon catheter will be inserted. They will fill it with a small amount of saltwater solution enough to fill in the abscess or cyst.
Your doctor will then stitch the balloon catheter in place, so when new cells grow (epithelialization) around it, a passage for drainage is left.
Afterward, your doctor will drain the saltwater solution and remove the catheter.
If your Bartholin’s cyst keeps on coming back, marsupialization will treat it while making it less likely to recur.
You will be placed under general or local anesthesia for painless surgery.
Your doctor will perform an incision or cut an opening on your cysts to drain the fluids. Then, they will stitch the sides of the drainage opening to allow any further fluid to drain out and prevent cysts from recurring.
Your doctor will loosely place a gauze pad over the wound to soak up the remaining fluid and stop any bleeding.
Pros and cons of removing Bartholin’s glands
In any case that your cysts keep on coming back even after marsupialization, your doctor will most likely recommend total removal of your Bartholin’s gland/s.
You will receive general anesthesia and undergo the procedure for about an hour. After the surgery, you will have to stay at the hospital for 2-3 days.
Bartholin’s glands removal comes with its pros and cons. Your doctor should tell you about each of these before getting your full consent for the surgery.
1. Prevents recurring cysts
Though the surgery for fluid drainage can treat pain and discomforts from Bartholin’s cysts, there are still high chances that your cysts will come back even years later.
Total removal of your Bartholin’s gland/s is the most effective way to completely get rid of cysts from recurring.
2. Reduces risk of cancer
Though rare, menopausal women are at a much higher risk of developing cancerous (malignant) Bartholin’s cysts.
If you’re at that age, your doctor will highly encourage you for the removal surgery. You can still choose to get catheter balloon insertion or marsupialization and test your cyst tissue for cancer. But these are just good as initial treatments, and you would still need to have your glands removed.
1. No more natural lubrication
Without your Bartholin’s glands, you will have a hard time producing natural lubricants in your vulva and vagina, which may make sexual intercourse unpleasurable. In most women, this is not good news at all!
But, you can certainly use lubricants or vaginal moisturizers to improve lubrication and still enjoy pleasurable sex. If these don’t meet your needs, you may consider talking to your doctor about getting vaginal estrogen and hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Bartholin’s glands are located on the labia of a woman’s genitalia, where there are a lot of nerve endings, connective tissues, and blood vessels.
Removing the glands will put you at a much higher risk of bleeding, especially if you don’t strictly follow your doctor’s post-surgical care instructions.
Well, think of it! You just had the bloodiest surgery in gynecology! So, you’re most likely prone to bruising.
When bleeding occurs during the removal of the Bartholin’s glands, you’ll expect red or purplish tender skin on the area. Some women even notice the skin turning almost blackish purple and really painful to touch.
4. Infection on the wound
The most common complication and the scariest is an infection on your surgical wound.
Infection only happens when bacteria invade your feminine area, disrupting your recovery and causing more problems.
When infection occurs, your wound may begin bleeding again, cause more intense pain when doing simple movements, and give you a high fever.
Your doctor will recommend you take antibiotics, keep the area clean and apply antibacterial ointments.
Avoid having sex for at least 4 weeks during your recovery period.
Post-surgical care guidelines
- Get enough sleep and rest.
- Avoid high-impact activities such as biking, jogging, weight lifting, and aerobic exercise for 4 to 6 weeks.
- Wear panty liners or sanitary pads, if you have some blood or fluid draining from the cyst
- Take a break from work.
- Avoid having sex and using tampons for up to 4 weeks.
- Ask your doctor when you can drive again. Driving could be dangerous after receiving a general anesthesia.
- Add fiber-rich supplements to your diet if you have irregular bowel movements.
- Take your pain medicines as prescribed by your doctor. If none, ask for some to help manage pain.
- Take a full course of antibiotics as prescribed by your doctor.
- Wash your feminine area daily with warm water and keep it dry.
- Place gauze or bandage on the wound if it rubs against clothing. Remember to change it every day.
- Soak or sit in a sitz bath for 15-20 minutes 3 times a day and pat the area dry afterward.
- Soak a flannel or a face towel in warm water and put it on your vulva, if you cannot take a bath.
- Follow your doctor’s instructions about any gauze or catheter placed in the cyst, such as avoiding any activities or when to safely remove the gauze.
- Wear only cotton underwear.
- Do not wear tight clothing.
- Sit on a doughnut-shaped pillow if sitting down is painful.
Home remedies, non-surgical treatments, catheter insertion, and marsupialization may sound promising, and many might have found long-term relief from them, but it’s not for everyone.
If you’ve been suffering from recurring cysts after doing everything, Bartholin’s gland removal is your last and best option. If it means resolving your problems with the cyst then, you should talk to your doctor about getting it.
The surgery comes with the risk of infection, bleeding, bruising, and other complications. Still, these could only be mild and may go away if you follow the proper care guidelines after your surgery.