Sexually transmitted diseases are not the only problems that women might experience that can temporarily or permanently derail their sex lives. There are also non-STD problems that can create discomfort and pain in the vagina which might lead to an uncomfortable, and sometimes embarrassing explanation to a partner.
One very common problem is a Bartholin’s cyst. This cyst develops in the Bartholin’s gland. “The Bartholin’s glands are located at the entrance to a woman’s vagina, one on each side. They are small and cannot be seen or felt when they are normal. Their function is to secrete fluid onto the mucosal (inner) surface of the labia-the liplike skin surrounding the vagina.” (emedicinehealth.com)
A cyst can develope when one of the glands becomes blocked. The fluid it secretes builds up inside causing a cyst. These can be irritating to mildly painful. When the cyst fails to unclog, it can become infected leading to a Bartholin’s abscess. Once it abscesses, it can ‘pop’ and bleed when wiping. The abscess can also lead to bodily infection usually evident by the presence of a fever.
Although the bacteria causing the initial infection can be from STDs, it is generally more common that the infection arises as a result of bacteria from the intestines (Escherichia coli.) This happens when women wipe from back to front, rather than front to back. The latter is advisable to avoid bacterial infections.
When a woman developes one of these cysts, she is apt to have a recurrence down the line in the same gland (same side).
When to Seek Medical Care
See a doctor if any genital lump or mass continues to enlarge or does not improve within a few days of home treatment. If a lump or mass is painful, this suggests that an abscess has developed. It needs to be drained. If other symptoms develop, including vaginal discharge, fever, or vomiting, call the doctor.
With Bartholin’s cysts and abscesses, the primary reason to seek emergency care is acute pain. Women who are experiencing severe pain or who cannot sit or walk comfortably should see a doctor as soon as possible. Although symptoms such as high fever and abdominal pain usually are not caused by Bartholin’s abscesses, seek emergency care if these symptoms do develop.
In severe cases, antibiotics may be required (possibly even a small surgical procedure called a marsupialization which can be done under local anesthetic), but in most cases, the simple home remedy of a sitz bath can help treat the cyst. The sitz bath (or warm, but not hot bath) should be done 3-4 times daily for about 10-15 minutes each time to help promote drainage of the fluid built up in the cyst. This treatment should continue until the cyst is completely drained and no longer visible.
If symptoms persist, or the cyst continually returns, seek medical attention with your physician.
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