Bartholin’s cysts

Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Bartholin’s cyst, also known as Bartholin’s duct cyst or vulvar cyst, is a non-infectious, small fluid-filled sac near the opening of the vagina. Discover the symptoms and treatment available.

What are the symptoms of Bartholin’s cysts?

Usually, Bartholin cysts are painless and soft, but if the cyst becomes quite large, you may feel discomfort when walking, sitting or having sex. If the Bartholin cyst becomes infected it can become very tender and painful and you might experience systematic symptoms such as fever and chills.

How common are Bartholin’s cysts?

Around 3 in 100 women will develop a Bartholin’s cyst at some point in their life. It’s most common in sexually active women between the ages of 20 and 30. 

Menopause usually causes Bartholin glands to shrink, meaning Bartholin’s cysts are very rare after menopause. They’re also rare in children.

What causes Bartholin’s cysts?

The Bartholin glands are pea-sized organs on opposing sides near the vaginal opening (labia majora), which you usually cannot feel or see. These glands create a mucus-like fluid to keep the vagina moist. 

A blockage in the opening causes the gland to swell with fluid, causing a Bartholin cyst to form, usually only on one side. 

How are Bartholin’s cysts diagnosed?

A healthcare professional should diagnose Bartholin cysts. They will first ask questions about your symptoms and follow up with a physical examination. During the pelvic examination, they assess the size of the cyst and check for signs of infection. The clinician may also take a swab of any discharge to test for STI or bacterial infection.

If you’re over 40 or postmenopausal, a biopsy may be done to rule out any cancerous growth, for example, vaginal cancer.

How are Bartholin’s cysts treated?

The cyst treatment depends on the size, symptoms, presence of infection and whether the cyst is recurrent or not. The treatment must be recommended by a healthcare professional because each case is different.

Do not try to squeeze or drain the cyst yourself at home, as this could make it worse and cause an infection.

There are multiple ways to treat a Bartholin cyst:

  • Over-the-counter pain relief – use with direction from a healthcare professional who understands your condition.

  • Antibiotics - may be recommended for treating an infected cyst. 

  • Sitz bath – this involves sitting in 3 to 4 inches of warm bath water a few times a day. A doctor may recommend adding Epsom salt to help soothe the cyst.

  • Surgical drainage – in some cases the cyst is lanced and drained to remove the fluid. The surgeon opens the cyst and stitches it back together leaving a small opening for continued drainage.

  • Removing the Bartholin’s gland – this is done in rare cases where the treatment is not working. 

When should I speak to a doctor?

Usually, Bartholin’s cysts are hard to spot and are only found during a cervical screening test. However, it’s important to reach out to a healthcare professional if you notice a lump around your vagina area to rule out other conditions and to confirm if it’s a Bartholin’s cyst. 

How can Livi help?

A Livi doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms. They’ll make an individual assessment, recommend a treatment or refer you to a specialist if needed.

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi