A Bartholin's abscess is an infection in the Bartholin’s gland, which is located in the female genitalia. There are two small, pea-sized Bartholin's glands located on each side of the labia minora, commonly referred to as the vaginal lips. A Bartholin's abscess forms when the small opening of the Bartholin’s gland becomes blocked because of irritation, infection, sexually transmitted disease, poor circulation or, in very rare cases, a tumor. The blocked gland becomes a pus-filled, painful lump.
The purpose of the Bartholin's glands are to release lubricating fluids during sexual arousal. When a woman is aroused, this fluid is released and slightly moistens the labial opening of the vagina. The highly sensitive vaginal area is thereby lubricated and becomes more comfortable for intercourse.
Symptoms of a Bartholin’s gland infection might include the presence of a painful mass on one side of the vagina, and it often is accompanied by pain when walking or sitting, pain during sexual intercourse or a painful, sensitive vagina. If the infection is severe, fever also might be present. A cosultation with a primary care physician or gynecologist might be required if the mass continues to swell and remains painful. Diagnosis of a Bartholin's abscess is made by a doctor performing a physical examination of the female genitalia and possible laboratory testing of the fluid within the abscess.
Treatment options depend on the severity of the Bartholin's abscess. If the lump is very swollen and painful, the doctor might elect to make a small incision over the abscess and drain the cavity. Antibiotics also might be prescribed if a fever is present. After draining an infected abscess, the doctor might recommend soaking the affected area in warm water several times a day. This helps ease any discomfort to the area and promotes drainage and healing.
For recurrent abscesses, removal of the Bartholin’s gland or a procedure called marsupialization might be suggested by a physician. Removal of the gland is rare but is an alternative to recurrent abscess formations. The marsupialization procedure usually is performed under general anesthesia and places stitches on each side of the gland to form a permanent opening for drainage. Marsupialization is not recommended when there is active infection present.
There is no preventative treatment for a Bartholin's abscess. Practicing safe sex by using a condom and performing good personal hygiene is always a consideration for maintaining optimal personal health. At the first sign of a Bartholin’s abscess or cyst, some form of self-care treatment, such as soaking the area in warm water, might help open the blocked gland. If the lump persists and becomes painful after a few days of self-treatment, then a physician should be consulted.