Why Do Some Women Get Bartholin's Cysts?

Vaginas can be a little mysterious. Sometimes, even their owners can't decipher their Sphynx-like ways of communicating. In fact, a 2020 poll commissioned by INTIMINA revealed the news that a quarter of American women aren't able to accurately identify the vagina when presented with a diagram. With stats like those, it's no wonder that when things go wrong down there, it can be a rather bewildering experience.

A Bartholin's cyst – a type of vaginal cyst that develops near the opening of the vagina — is just one example of the many potential issues that can arise when you are the proud owner of a vagina. The two Bartholin glands, after which the cysts are named, can be found on either side of the vaginal opening — pumping out fluid designed to keep your vagina well lubricated (per Mayo Clinic). Talk about good looking out!

However, in the event that these glands become obstructed, the fluid that was meant to keep you moist has no way of escaping and a buildup begins to occur, resulting in a cyst.

Why do Bartholin's cysts happen?

If you find yourself with a Bartholin's cyst, your first thought may be, "Why me?" Well, we'll tell you. Women of reproductive age are most susceptible to Bartholin's cysts, however they only occur in around 2% of women, according to the Cleveland Clinic. While doctor's can't say for certain why some women get them, Bartholin's cysts commonly occur when bacteria associated with E. coli or sexually transmitted infections – like gonorrhea and chlamydia — become lodged inside the glands, clogging the opening. Skin irritation or overgrowth, as well as injury to the area, can also cause the kind of obstruction that could result in a Bartholin's cyst.

Most Bartholin's cysts are small and painless, although they can cause some minor irritation. Especially when they grow to be the size of a golf ball — making sitting, walking, and sex more cumbersome (per National Health Service). The cysts may also become infected with bacteria, forming an abscess — in which case, symptoms like swelling, tenderness, pain, fever, redness, and seepage from the cyst can occur.

Treatment of Bartholin's cysts

The treatment of a Bartholin's cyst is dependent on various factors including the size of the cyst, whether or not it's painful, and if an infection is present. Some cysts can be eradicated with the help of a sitz bath, which requires you to fill the bottom of your bathtub with a few inches of warm water and sit in it a few times a day (per Cleveland Clinic). If after a few days of self care you don't see any improvement, a physical exam from your doctor can confirm your diagnosis. If there's concern as to whether or not an STI or bacterial infection is present, your doctor may send the fluid out for testing. In the event of infection, you may be treated with antibiotics.

In some cases, your doctor may perform an in-office procedure in which an incision is made in the cyst, and a catheter is inserted (per American Academy of Family Physicians). Over the course of two to four weeks, the cyst will drain with the help of the catheter, and the tube will later be removed by your doctor. Another option is to have the cyst drained by your doctor, a treatment measure called marsupialization. You'll be stitched up before you head home.