On either side of the vulva, below the labia majora, are Bartholin’s glands. When a cyst develops there and becomes infected, it can become painful and require an operation.
“Walking and sitting are very painful, I have a swelling the size of a chicken egg on the left side of the vulva“, confides a young woman in the testimonial section of Madmoizelle. She evokes her bartholinitis, or infection (and inflammation) of the Bartholin glands, located on either side of the vulva, under the labia majora.
What are Bartholin’s glands used for?
Bartholin’s glands are named after a Danish anatomist, who discovered them during his lifetime (between the 17th and 18th centuries). “It is two hormone-dependent glands that help lubricate the vagina during sex. Elongated and flattened in shape, measuring approximately 10 to 15 mm”, explains the site of the National College of French Gynecologists and Obstetricians (CNGOF).
Ordinarily, we do not feel them: “Because they are located deep under the skin, they are normally imperceptible“, specifies the MSD manual in a sheet dedicated to the problems related to these glands. But it happens that cysts develop there, which would concern about 2% of women, “if the ducts of these glands are blocked, these fill with mucus and increase in volume”.
Why do Bartholin’s glands get infected?
In most cases, they are not painful, but can be bothersome in certain circumstances: when sitting, when walking or during sexual intercourse. Sometimes, these become infected, resulting in an abscess, and therefore swelling described by the patient testifying in Madmoizelle and severe pain. “I continue and complete the antibiotic treatment, but I feel that the cyst is still present, uncomfortable at best and sometimes painful, especially after sex, even non-penetrative.”
The causes of these cysts are various: a sexually transmitted infection may be linked to it, such as gonorrhea or chlamydia, or a mycoplasma. But it can also result from an intestinal germ, such as “enterobacteriaceae, enterococcus, Escherichia coli or even anaerobes”, notes the CNGOF.
Detecting and treating bartholinitis: when to consult?
To detect inflammation of the Bartholin glands, the first step is a pelvic examination, which may then require a biopsy. According to the MSD manual, certain symptoms should lead you to consult: pain, fever, an increasing cyst, discomfort when walking or sitting.
They can first be treated at home: via sitz baths for 10 to 15 minutes, 3 to 4 times a day, in a few centimeters of hot water (which is sometimes enough to make them disappear). If the cyst continues to grow, go to a doctor, who may, among other things, offer surgery to drain the cyst. Antibiotics may be prescribed in addition. In the event of repeated infections, the gland can also be removed notes the Aubagne gynecology center.
Sources: Aubagne Gynecology Center, CNGOF, MSD Manual, Madmoizelle