A Bartholin’s abscess can occur when one of
the Bartholin’s glands, located on either side of the opening of the vagina,
becomes infected. A cyst will usually form when the gland is blocked. If the
cyst becomes infected, it can lead to a Bartholin’s abscess.
A Bartholin’s abscess can be more than an
inch in diameter. It usually causes significant pain. While most people with a
Bartholin’s abscess completely recover, there is a chance that the cyst will
come back and become infected again.
Women of childbearing age are the most
affected population, with nearly 2 percent of
women experiencing a Bartholin’s abscess in their
What causes a Bartholin’s abscess?
There are two Bartholin’s glands, each about
the size of a pea. The glands sit on each side of the vaginal opening. They
provide lubrication to the vaginal membranes. Bacteria that get into the gland
can cause infection, swelling, and an obstruction.
Fluid builds up in the gland, increasing
pressure on the area. If the infection and swelling advance, the gland may
abscess, which breaks open the skin. A Bartholin’s abscess usually only appears
on one side of the vagina at a time.
It may take years for fluid to build up
enough to form a cyst, but an abscess can form there quickly. A Bartholin’s
abscess tends to be very painful.
Doctors believe that bacteria, such as E.
coli, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as chlamydia or
gonorrhea, may cause the infections that lead to Bartholin’s abscesses.
What are the symptoms?
A Bartholin’s abscess usually causes a lump to
form under the skin on one side of the vagina. It’s common for a Bartholin’s
abscess to cause pain during any activity that puts pressure on the area, such
as walking, sitting down, or sexual intercourse.
A fever may also accompany the abscess. The
area where the abscess has formed will likely be red, swollen, and warm to the
a Bartholin’s abscess diagnosed?
To determine if you have a Bartholin’s
abscess, your doctor will perform a physical exam to check for any lumps within
the vagina that would indicate an abscess. They may take a sample from the area
to check for any STDs. Those STDs would need to be treated along with the
If you are over the age of 40 or have already
gone through menopause, your doctor may want to perform a biopsy on any masses
found in the vagina to rule out other sources of the problem. Although it is
rare, there are cases where a Bartholin’s abscess can indicate cancer.
options for a Bartholin’s abscess
In its early stages, a Bartholin’s abscess
can be treated at home using sitz baths. A sitz bath refers to sitting in a tub
with 2 to 3 inches of warm water. It may take many days of sitz baths to treat
the abscess because the opening of the Bartholin’s gland is very small, and it
may close before drainage is complete.
Soaking may not cure the abscess, but a sitz
bath can help ease your pain and discomfort. To treat a Bartholin’s cyst, which
can lead to an abscess, the Mayo Clinic recommends that you soak in three
or four sitz baths a day, for at least 10 to 15 minutes
If you have a Bartholin’s abscess, home
treatments that are recommended for cyst care may help the abscess to drain and
heal on its own. Using a mix of tea tree and castor oil as a topical ointment
on the abscess may promote drainage.
You can apply the tea tree and castor oil
with a piece of gauze. Adding a hot compress on top of the gauze may make this
remedy even more effective. Tea tree oil is known for its antibacterial
properties, which may help clear an infection. Castor oil is thought to promote
blood circulation in the affected area, which reduces inflammation.
It is rare for a Bartholin’s abscess to get
better on its own. Usually, the abscess needs to be drained through surgery. In
most cases, you can have the procedure at your doctor’s office under local
anesthesia. General anesthesia in a hospital is also an option. Talk to your
doctor about the best choice for you.
During the surgery, your doctor makes an
incision in the abscess and places a catheter inside to drain the fluid. The
catheter may remain in place for several weeks. Once the abscess heals, your
doctor can remove the catheter or allow it to fall out on its own.
Since the abscess is likely the result of an
infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. In some cases, antibiotics
are unnecessary if the abscess drains properly.
It’s common for Bartholin’s abscesses to
recur. If, after your treatment, the Bartholin’s abscess comes back repeatedly,
your doctor may suggest a procedure called marsupialization.
Marsupialization is a surgery that is very
similar to the other drainage procedure. But instead of allowing the incision
to close, your doctor will stitch the incision open to allow for maximum
drainage. They may use a catheter, or pack the abscess with a special gauze
that they remove the next day. Local anesthesia is an option during a
marsupialization. The procedure can also be performed under general anesthesia.
Your doctor will treat any infection present before the surgery with
If these treatments don’t stop the
Bartholin’s abscess from recurring, your doctor may recommend removing your
Bartholin’s glands. This surgery is rare and would require general anesthesia
in a hospital setting.
How can it be prevented?
There is no definitive way to prevent a
Bartholin’s abscess. But practices such as safe sex, condom use, and good
hygiene will help keep bacteria out of the area, which can help prevent
infection. It is also important to find out if you have an STD, and to seek
treatment if you do.
Maintaining a healthy urinary tract may help
prevent Bartholin’s cysts and abscesses from developing. Drink plenty of fluids
throughout the day, and try to avoid waiting a long time to go to the bathroom.
Cranberry supplements may help support good urinary tract health.
Complications and emergency
If a Bartholin’s abscess worsens and goes
untreated, the infection could spread to other organs in your body. The
infection may enter your bloodstream, a condition called septicemia. This
condition is dangerous because the infection can be carried throughout your
If you have a fever over 103 degrees, it’s
important to seek medical attention. You should also seek medical help if the
abscess ruptures abruptly and the pain does not subside.
If you think you may have a Bartholin’s
abscess, see your doctor. You can try sitz baths at home, but the condition is
unlikely to go away without medical treatment. It’s especially important to
seek medical care if you have a fever or if the pain starts interfering with
your daily activities.
Once the abscess has drained, recovery time
is minimal. Most women feel better within 24 hours after a Bartholin’s abscess has
If your abscess needed surgical removal, your
recovery time will vary depending on the details of your procedure. Expect to
spend the first few days after the surgery reclining as much as possible. Make
sure to rest and recover, following your doctor’s instructions. It’s important
to let any incisions heal completely, and to take any antibiotics prescribed to
You should have no lasting effects from the
abscess once it is treated successfully.