Lifestyle & Health: Recurring cyst leads to swollen labia
Trisha has a recurring swelling of her left labia. Her doctor has told her that this is a Bartholin's, cyst which she might have to drain eventually. So far, the cyst has gone away with the use of antibiotic medication and sitz baths (saltwater baths). Trisha asks why the cyst keeps on recurring. She has very clean habits, especially when it comes to genital cleansing.
Bartholin's cysts occur when Bartholin's glands become blocked. These glands are located on both sides of the vaginal opening, and they secrete fluids which help with lubricating the vagina. When the ducts responsible for emptying these cysts become blocked, the fluid being formed within the gland backs up, forming the cysts, usually one cyst at a time. This is usually a painless swelling. However, if the fluid content of the Bartholin's gland becomes infected, it may become filled with pus, developing into a Bartholin's abscess, which can be quite painful indeed.
How the Bartholin's cyst is treated depends on the size of the swelling, if the cystic fluids have become infected, and if the area is painful. Treatment can vary from mild home treatment to surgical drainage of the cyst/abscess. A painful infection which makes walking difficult can occur within days.
You may experience a painful lump near the vaginal opening; pain during sex; and discomfort between the legs when walking.
So, what can you do to take care of the swelling on your own? Try a sitz bath several times daily for a few days while taking over-the-counter Panadol or Aleve. This will help the cyst to rupture and drain on its own. If the swelling does not resolve, you will need to visit your doctor for a check-up.
It is difficult to prevent the recurrence of a Bartholin's cyst. Using a condom during sex helps, as well as practising good hygiene generally.
Oftentimes, no treatment is required once there are no symptoms, no pain and the size isn't too big. Antibiotics are also sometimes given. Marsupialisation is a more complicated surgical procedure which is used for more persistent and recurring cysts. Daily sitz baths remain very important after surgery to keep the area clean and pain-free.
Of some note is the fact that Bartholin's cysts can become infected with sexually transmitted illnesses such as gonorrhoea and chlamydia as well as other organisms. So, if the cyst becomes an abscess, your doctor should have a look.