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Alternative Names Return to topAbscess - Bartholin's; Infected Bartholin's gland
Definition Return to top
Bartholin's abscess is the build-up of pus that forms a lump (swelling) in one of the Bartholin's glands, which are located on each side of the vaginal opening.
Causes Return to top
A Bartholin's abscess forms when a small opening (duct) from the gland gets blocked. Fluid in the gland builds up and may become infected. Fluid may build up over many years before an abscess occurs.
Often the abscess appears quickly over several days and become very hot and swollen. Activity that puts pressure on the vulva, and walking and sitting, may cause excruciating pain.
Symptoms Return to top
Exams and Tests Return to top
A pelvic examination reveals an enlarged and tender Bartholin's gland. A biopsy may be recommended in older women to rule out a tumor.
Any vaginal discharge or fluid drainage will be sent to a lab for analysis.
Treatment Return to top
Soaking in warm water four times a day for several days usually provides some relief and causes the abscess to open and drain on its own. However, the opening is usually very small and closes quickly, before drainage is complete.
A small surgical cut can completely drain the abscess. This provides the greatest relief and the fastest recovery. The procedure can be done under local anesthesia in a doctor's office. A catheter (tube) may be used to continue to allow draining while the area heals.
Antibiotics may be prescribed, but they are not usually needed if the abscess is drained properly.
Women who have repeated abscesses may consider a procedure called marsupialization. The procedure involves surgically creating a small, permanent opening to help the gland drain. Women with large, persistent Bartholin's cysts may also have this procedure.
Your health care provider may recommend that the glands be removed if abscesses keep coming back.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
The chance of full recovery is excellent. About 10% of the time, abscesses recur.
It is important to treat any vaginal infection that may be diagnosed at the same time as the abscess.
Possible Complications Return to top
A chronic Bartholin's duct cyst may develop if the fluid of the abscess is scraped off from the surrounding tissue. In women over the age of 40, a swollen Bartholin's gland may mean there is a cancerous tumor in the gland, although this is very rare.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if a painful, swollen lump is noted on the labia near the vaginal opening and does not improve with 2-3 days of home treatment. Call if pain is severe and interferes with normal activity.
Call your health care provider if you develop a fever higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
Prevention Return to top
Bartholin's abscess can happen without any specific cause, so there is no specific way to prevent it.
References Return to top
Eckert LO, Lentz GM. Infections of the lower genital tract: vulva, vagina, cervix, toxic shock syndrome, HIV infections. In: Katz VL, Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007: chap 22.Update Date: 8/1/2008 Updated by: Linda Vorvick, MD, Seattle Site Coordinator, Maternal & Child Health Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine; Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine; Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Redmond, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.