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What Is Bartholin's Gland?

Gynecologists can diagnose and treat a Bartholin's gland abscess.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 19 August 2014
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Bartholin's gland is a gland located near the vaginal opening. This anatomical structure is named for the physician who first noted it in the 17th century. There are usually two of these glands, located around the lower area of the opening. Bartholin's glands secrete lubricating fluids and rarely cause medical problems for patients. Many women are unaware of the presence of these glands, in fact, and the bulk of vaginal lubrication comes from secretions higher up in the vagina.

In healthy patients, these glands, located just inside the labia, are usually difficult to identify. They are too small to palpate and their openings are also very small, making them difficult to spot during a basic physical examination. When women are aroused, a few drops of fluid may emerge from the opening of the gland, but under regular circumstances, the glands do not secrete any lubricating mucus.

One health problem known to occur with the Bartholin's gland is a cyst or abscess. If the opening becomes blocked, mucus can build up inside the gland, forming a swelling that can become as large as a grapefruit, in addition to being very painful. The cyst is usually not caused by an infection, but it can be, and if a patient has repeated cysts, a doctor may recommend taking a culture to check for bacteria or other microorganisms that might be contributing to cyst reformation. More rarely, cells inside the gland can become cancerous and develop into a tumor.

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Treatment for a Bartholin's gland abscess can include implanting a temporary drain to allow the mucus to drain completely while the opening clears. The cyst can also be surgically drained with an incision and manual expression of the mucus. Women who have recurrent cysts may discuss other treatment options with their gynecologists. Because the gland is not the sole source of lubrication, it can potentially be removed to prevent future cysts without jeopardizing a woman's health or comfort.

Women who notice pain and swelling around the opening of the vagina may have an inflammation of a Bartholin's gland. It is advisable to consult a gynecologist for diagnosis and treatment. The gynecologist can confirm the cause of the swelling and eliminate sexually transmitted infections and other potential causes of the symptoms in order to provide appropriate treatment. If an infection of a Bartholin's gland is suspected, antibiotics may be given to address it, and patients may also be offered anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the swelling and increase comfort.

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Discuss this Article

Monika
Post 2

@SZapper - Forget the possible draining. That doesn't sound so bad compared to possible developing a cancerous tumor in that area! Imagine developing cancer in a gland you've never even heard of.

I know that's not common. But it's yet another good reason for going to your yearly appointment with your gynecologist. I know I don't look at that area of my body that much. I doubt I would realize something was developing unless it hurt. And the article pointed out that you can barely see these glands anyway!

SZapper
Post 1

You know, of all the female body parts we hear about lately, this is one I've never heard about! And I paid attention in health class. I suppose Bartholin's glands don't get much love because as the article said, they don't cause problems too often.

However, the problems they do cause sound pretty awful. I imagine it would be pretty unpleasant to have a cyst drained in that area. And even worse if they actually had to implant a drain. Ugh!

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