If the cyst remains small and no infection occurs, you may not notice it. If it grows, you might feel the presence of a lump or mass near your vaginal opening. Although a cyst is usually painless, it can be tender.
If the cyst becomes infected — a full-blown infection can occur in a matter of days — you may experience these signs and symptoms:
- A tender or painful lump near the vaginal opening
- Discomfort while walking or sitting
- Pain during intercourse
A cyst or abscess typically occurs on only one side of the vaginal opening.
When to see a doctor
Call your doctor if you have a painful lump near the opening of your vagina that doesn't improve after two or three days of self-care treatment — for instance, soaking the area in warm water (sitz bath). If the pain is severe, make an appointment with your doctor right away.
If you find a new lump near your vaginal opening and you're older than 40, call your doctor promptly. Although rare, such a lump may be a sign of a more serious problem, such as cancer.
Experts believe that the cause of a Bartholin's cyst is a backup of fluid. Fluid may accumulate when the opening of the gland (duct) becomes obstructed, perhaps by the growth of a flap of skin or because of infection.
A cyst can become infected, forming an abscess. A number of bacteria may cause the infection, including common bacteria, such as Escherichia coli (E. coli), as well as bacteria that cause sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea and chlamydia.
Bartholin cysts are likely to persist. Abscesses may recur and again require treatment.
There's no way to prevent a Bartholin's cyst. However, practicing safe sex — in particular, using a condom — and maintaining good hygiene habits may help to prevent infection of a cyst and the formation of an abscess.