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Bartholin Gland Abscess

Last updated May 10, 2018

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Bartholin glands are present on either side of the women’s vagina. Their function is to secrete a fluid into the vagina, in order to make the vaginal opening smooth and slippery.

What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • Bartholin Gland Cyst and Abscess
  • Bartholin’s Abscess
  • Bartholin’s Gland Abscess

What is Bartholin Gland Abscess? (Definition/Background Information)

  • Bartholin glands are present on either side of the women’s vagina. Their function is to secrete a fluid into the vagina, in order to make the vaginal opening smooth and slippery
  • When the duct of the Bartholin glands gets blocked, the fluid gets accumulated and causes the gland to swell and form a cyst, which is termed as a Bartholin gland cyst. However, a Bartholin Gland Abscess or Bartholin’s Abscess occurs due to infection of the gland
  • The condition is typically seen in women who are in their reproductive age. Generally, at any particular time, Bartholin Gland Abscess affects only on one side of the vagina
  • Abscess formation of the cyst may lead to discomfort while walking or pain during sex, which are the most common symptoms of a Bartholin Gland Abscess
  • In most cases, a combination of surgical treatment of the condition (that involves a surgical drainage of the fluid) and antibiotic therapy is necessary, since Bartholin’s Abscess is not known to regress or get better with time, on its own
  • Generally, the prognosis of Bartholin Gland Abscess is excellent with appropriate treatment. However, in some cases, it may recur

Who gets Bartholin Gland Abscess? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • Typically, Bartholin Gland Abscess is seen in women who are in their reproductive age or child-bearing age. However, women of any age range may be affected
  • The condition is observed worldwide; all racial and ethnic groups may be affected

What are the Risk Factors for Bartholin Gland Abscess? (Predisposing Factors)

The risk factors for Bartholin Gland Abscess may include:

  • Women of childbearing age have a higher risk
  • Unprotected sex

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases ones chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider.

What are the Causes of Bartholin Gland Abscess? (Etiology)

  • When the duct of the Bartholin gland gets blocked, fluid gets accumulated and causes the gland to expand in size and form a cyst, which is termed as the Bartholin gland cyst
  • A Bartholin Gland Abscess may be formed when the cyst gets infected by bacteria, which may be caused by:
    • Escherichia coli (E. coli), which is among the most common causative agent
    • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
    • Bacteria that may cause sexually-transmitted diseases such as Gonorrhea and Chlamydia

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Bartholin Gland Abscess?

The common signs and symptoms of Bartholin Gland Abscess may include:

  • Fever, due to abscess formation by infection of the cyst
  • Tenderness and pain in the cyst
  • Discomfort while walking or sitting
  • Pain during sexual intercourse

How is Bartholin Gland Abscess Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of Bartholin Gland Abscess may involve:

  • Thorough examination of the pelvic (genital) area and complete evaluation of medical history. Usually a pelvic examination is sufficient to make a diagnosis of Bartholin’s Abscess
  • Occasionally, since the cyst is fluctuant (due to accumulation of fluid), a fine needle aspiration of the cyst contents may be performed
    • Fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy: A very fine and hollow needle is inserted where the cyst is noticed; the fluid contained within the cyst is withdrawn. The extracted sample is sent for further pathological examination
    • If the healthcare provider suspects an infection process, then culture studies on the cyst aspirate may be performed
  • Vaginal biopsy of the mass: It is the process of removing tissue for examination. In the case of Bartholin’s cysts, a complete excision and removal of the lesion can help in the process of a biopsy, as well as be a means for treating the condition. A biopsy of the cyst may be recommended in women of age more than 40 years, to check for the presence of cancerous cells

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

What are the possible Complications of Bartholin Gland Abscess?

A Bartholin Gland Abscess may lead to the following complications:

  • Continuous and chronic occurrence of the cyst
  • Recurrence of abscesses that will need to be treated on a continuous basis
  • Damage to the muscles, vital nerves, and blood vessels, during surgery
  • Post-surgical infection at the wound site is a potential complication

How is Bartholin Gland Abscess Treated?

Various treatment methods for Bartholin Gland Abscess may include:

  • Sitz bath: Immersing oneself several times in a tub filled with warm water for a period of 3-4 days may cause the cyst to break and the fluid will drain on its own. This therapy may not be effective for all individuals. The healthcare provider will advise if the therapy is appropriate for the individual
  • Surgical drainage:
    • Surgical drainage of abscess is done for larger cysts
    • A small incision is made on the cyst and the fluid accumulated inside it is allowed to drain
  • Antibiotics: If the cyst is infected with abscess formation due to bacteria
  • Marsupialization surgical procedure:
    • Recurring cysts are treated using this procedure
    • Stitches are placed on each side of the drainage incision so that a permanent opening is made
    • Through this opening a catheter is placed to drain the fluid for a few days so that it does not recur
  • Post-operative care is important: Minimum activity level is to be ensured until the surgical wound heals
  • Follow-up care with regular screening and check-ups are important

How can Bartholin Gland Abscess be Prevented?

There are no specific methods to prevent the occurrence of Bartholin gland cysts that causes Bartholin Gland Abscess. However, by adopting the following measures, the risk of further complications may be reduced:

  • Practicing safe sex (such as using condoms)
  • Always maintaining good personal hygiene
  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids (such as fruit juices)
  • Medical screening at regular intervals with scans and physical examinations are advised (as recommended by the healthcare provider)

What is the Prognosis of Bartholin Gland Abscess? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

  • The prognosis of Bartholin Gland Abscess is generally good with proper treatment. Most women feel a measure of relief within 24 hours after the abscess drainage has been performed
  • In very rare cases, women may have recurring cysts and abscesses, which may require to be treated through marsupialization surgical procedure

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Bartholin Gland Abscess:

  • A Bartholin Gland Abscess drainage procedure involves removal of the cyst and drainage of the abscess that is a result of blockage in the Bartholin gland

The following article link will help you understand Bartholin Gland Abscess drainage procedure:


What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Nov. 4, 2016
Last updated: May 10, 2018