Swollen Bartholin’s Gland

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Pelvic Health

Hi Dr Northrup,

I have a swollen Bartholin’s gland. It’s mildly uncomfortable but fairly large. I also have a little soreness in my pelvic lymph glands on the same side (right side). I feel like this is probably related to a sensual encounter a couple weeks ago that did not feel that good to me and I didn’t say anything about it. I’ve had this happen once in the past (8 years ago) and I saw a naturopath who gave me a cream to put on it, which worked. I would like to do something to help my body heal and avoid this happening in the future. Can you give me any information that can help with that? Also, do you think that I should avoid self pleasuring until it heals? I really appreciate your help and being able to ask you this question! – L.F. (Ithaca)

Dear L.F.,

The first thing I’d like to do is congratulate you for making the connection between having sex that didn’t feel good to you and the subsequent development of a Bartholin’s cyst in your vulva. I’ve often said that when our upper lips (those around our mouth), can’t speak, our lower lips (genitals) will do it for us.

Bartholin’s glands are located in either side of the opening of the vagina, just inside the outer lips, at about the area of the hymeneal ring. Their purpose is to produce moisture to keep the area in good health. Sometimes, particularly when there is genital inflammation of any kind, such as you describe, the gland opening will become plugged. The result is a cyst. These cysts can become infected and form abscesses which are full of pus. It doesn’t sound as though yours has progressed that far, even though it’s a little sore. So proceed to my treatment plan below.

For the record, the treatment for a Bartholin’s abscess or recurrent cyst is incision and drainage under local anesthesia. It’s also possible to make a tiny incision and insert a little inflatable balloon into the cyst cavity that stays there for a week or so. This allows the cyst to drain and helps form a bigger opening so that the cyst won’t recur in the future.

In your particular case, I would recommend sitting in a hot bath filled with Epsom salts (about 1 cup per bath) twice per day for 20-30 minutes. Epsom salts is made from magnesium sulfate, which tends to have a beneficial effect on swollen tissue. It’s also very relaxing. So why not make the most of it. Light a candle, play some music, and bring in a good book!

Another excellent treatment is a little tea tree oil rubbed on the cyst area a couple times per day after your bath.

In addition to making the treatment maximally pleasurable for yourself, I’d also recommend that you make it even more healing. Cup one hand your over your genitals and put the other over your heart. Visualize sending the compassionate energy of your heart down to your genitals (low heart.) And say the following affirmation out loud: “I love and respect you. I will listen to your wisdom from this day forward. You are safe with me. All is well.”

Gentle self-pleasuring is just fine. I would focus on your G spot (sacred spot)—stimulating that with your fingers or something else (your choice.) And keep connecting with your heart while you do this—breathing the energy of your heart into this area. (For a complete set of instructions for enlivening this area, please see Emergence of the Sensual Woman by Saida Desilets, Ph.D.) – C.N.

Learn More — Additional Resources

Last Updated: January 15, 2009

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.

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  1. Julie
    4 weeks ago

    I have a red very swollen labia and when I press on it as it is very hard, pus comes pouring out of a hole. What is this?

  2. Megan
    2 months ago

    Hi Dr. Northrup,
    I have been dealing with this bartholin cyst for an On going few months now, I am also 14 weeks pregnant. The very first time I experienced it was when I was pregnant with my son almost 3 years ago. But was lucky enough for it drain and go away on its own. Now that it has came back I have been back and forth to the hospital and my obgyn to get it lanced and drained as it would not drain on its own this time. I just went to the dr yesterday and had it drained once more, but today I’m in more pain than before. And my labia and the left side of my vagina is swollen and excruciating. The dr at the hospital said the cyst has drained just fine and he feels that the swelling is from the lacerations. As many times as I have had the procedure done I have not been in pain like this afterwards. I am taking Sitz bath, antibiotics and pain medicine prescribed by the dr, yet the swelling and pain just seems to increase. What more can I do, if anything? This is at least the tenth time since May that I have dealt with this painful cyst Reoccurring. Also, is there a surgeon who specializes in this type of issue? Please help!!
    TIA!

  3. Jayde
    10 months ago

    I am 24 and have experienced a swollen Bartholins Gland. I believe it came about due to some residual self neglect from years of not fully understanding my sexual self coupled with a current feeling of sexual rejection from my partner whom I love very much. Feeling intimately/sexually rejected and under appreciated by someone you love with all your heart is a terrible feeling. Hurt and resentment built up after trying to discuss it many times and I eventually developed a cyst. It occurred to me after I had to have it drained the first time that it was an emotional ordeal. After a series of terrible side effects from the antibiotics, the cyst came back and much larger than before! This was really scary, well that is when I found this article. It was nice to read a confirmation that, yes, this growing cyst stemmed from emotional detriment. With this in mind, I happened to have a deep conversation with my beautiful auntie about my emotions and how I was feeling intimately rejected by my lover, a conversation that I had not been able to have with anyone before this and was difficult to talk about. She listened with a nurturing perspective and I felt so much better in my heart. That evening I applied some tea tree oil after my shower, did the meditation in this article — telling my vagina that i loved it and that it was safe–, then, placed a hot rice bag down there while I slept. The next morning, the cyst was draining! It has been draining for two days by itself now and is significantly smaller carrying no pain. I’m taking probiotics and drinking plenty of water. What a relief <3 thank you for being open to all of these subjects and sharing your wisdom as we are all learning to love.

  4. Heather-ann
    2 years ago

    Hello I had a bartholin cyst for two years, lots of operations. The last operation they burned it and they told me that what causes is my monthly menstrual cycle, the blood goes there to bartholin gland and causes cyst. They put me on birth control. I really want to know of there’s a natural alternative because the birth control has caused a lump in my breast called “Fibroadenoma” which is literally a pain.

  5. Sara Bentley
    3 years ago

    Dear Dr Christiane Northrup 🙂
    i’m indebted to you, as is my Mom, & now my daughter, who is actually writing her dissertation on female related health issues, she has taken much inspiration from you & has given special consideration on all accounts. I have just recently bought us all ‘Mother & daughter wisdom, & i can’t put it down! your books always come at the perfect time, no accidents!
    So, i’m writing to ask about Chocolate cysts, i had a bi-lateral cystectomy 4yrs ago 2011, 4cm L & 7cmR, both benign, & CA125 blood tests all fine. I visited my local GP a couple mths ago as was having erratic periods close together, on & off for a year, & some left hand side pain intermitant since having the first op! nothing i couldn’t cope with, i put the periods down to peri-menopause as had had other symptoms too, (having read Womens bodies womens wisdom) – i took a high strength mega mag fem balance powder & more exercise, greens etc, & periods regulated for some time, however, this past year have been irregular once again, so decided to visit my Dr. I am 47yrs, i have just had 2 x transvaginal ultrasound scans, showing some blood filled pockets & a ‘chocolate cyst on left hand side ovary apparently quite large ,’ my CA125 has come back showing no abnormalities, my gynacologist has suggested laparoscopy to remove the cyst. I had asked if it were poss to watch & wait, he said no, & mentioned that i had pain, he also stated that the out of balance/erratic periods were nothing to do with it all! (Which is why i went to Docs in first place!) My question is really, is it advisable for me to go ahead with this op having been through all of this 4rs ago, & now coming up to menopause this may well recede!? i value your opinion & understand that you cannot diagnose etc. I think you are a beautiful soul, & have such a genuine pure ability to reach out to women generationally – Grace & Gratitude always x

    1. Christiane L NOrthrup
      2 years ago

      When it comes to endometriosis surgery, the absolute authority on this is Dr. David Redwine in Bend, Oregon. He has found that it’s possible to remove the endometriosis but preserve the pelvic organs. But I have seen many women recover without surgery. Acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine can work wonders with this. And, my opinion is that your symptoms have EVERYTHING to do with perimenopause. That is why things are becoming symptomatic– the changing hormone levels. So– as with all perimenopausal symptoms, I can whole heartedly recommend Pueraria mirifica. Take it 3weeks on and one week off. The phytoestrogens can help with hormonal balance. And yes– my company makes a reliable brand. But there are others out there. Thanks for asking and for the affirmation. http://www.amatalife.com

      1. Sara Bentley
        1 year ago

        Eeek only just saw this reply! Thankyou so much…Wil look into the Pueraria Mirifica.
        Grace & Gratitude to you. Have just picked up copies of your latest book for holiday gifts…we have the full collection now and ever grateful x

  6. Marilyn
    3 years ago

    I’m a big fan and appreciate your writings, especially about mind-body medicine. You have helped to fill a gap in that area. However, I was disappointed that your site does not have any information about vulvodynia. I came here as a result of a Google search on estrogen dominance, and I decided to stay and explore because I have seen you on PBS. When you are silent on vulvodynia you echo the silence that millions of women have experienced when they reached out to their doctors for help and information and got nothing. Actually, that’s not accurate– they got worse than nothing when their pain was dismissed because their doctor didn’t know anything aboiut it. If the doctor doesn’t know about it, it must not be really real, right? That situation is slowly changing. But one still has to look long and hard for a doctor who treats vulvodynia, and those few who do treat it know they are so special that they do not have to accept health insurance, which puts their services out of reach for most of us common folk. So we go online and look for info that way. You have done and will continue to do much for women, I’m sure, but until you fully address vulvodynia–which means educating women who might not even know they have it and explaining its possible causes and treatment–you are all too much like the typical establishment gyno for my tastes–and I would hope for your tastes as well.

    I am hoping that somehow this is all my mistake and that in fact you have fully discussed vulvodynia somewhere. I would be interested in your thoughts. I just know that my search on your website turned up nothing, which is par for my experiences with other doctors. If by some fluke you have not really discussed vulvodynia yet, I hope you will really take it on fully and do it right. By that I mean being fully up to date with all of the latest research on what works and doesn’t work, discussing evidence-based theories about causes and treatment, and giving patients ways to find a good practitioner. If you refer people to the NVA, you will not really be helping because their list of practitioners is really lame. NVA does a lot of good work–and is one of only two orgs I have heard of that work on this issue–but their list of practitioners is almost useless. Also, patients looking for a support group may well be out of luck. I’ve been a member for years and have yet to get info on a support group in my area. Very few practitoners on their list, if any, accept health insurance, and anyone who conducts online research on the names they list will come up with many who have a lot of negative reviews. Again, many of the few docs who treat this condition seem to know they are so very special that they don’t have to consider emotional issues related to healing, like basic respect, not to mention trust concerning such an intimate issue as ongoing pain in one’s vagina. It might be me, be unfortunately the respect issues seem to come up with male practitioners. If you or your staff choose to do any research on this, you will find that most of the big names in vulvodynia are male, even now, in the 21st century. I could name names, but I’m not sure the actual names matter that much. I will say that I was diagnosed in Washington, DC, more than 10 years ago by possibly the biggest rock star in vulvodynia. It’s a small world, so I think I’ve given you a clue. This person who happens to be male is known far and wide for his gross insensitivity and for his ridiculously expensive fees. My short time in his office, about 45 minutes, cost more than $1,250. And this was just to be diagnosed–not for anything like a cure. He has people coming from all over the world to see him. He also has people from all over the world talking about what a jerk he is, but he has discovered a niche, an extremely underserved market; so women who are already vulnerable are left without many choices except him, and others like him. And to be completely fair, I am thankful that I saw him and finally found out why intercourse had always been painful for me, even though I have never wanted to see him again. It helps to have a name for a problem–vulvodynia. Unfortunately, it is not a name well known among doctors, even gynocologists. Dr. Northrup, there is space here for you to make a real difference if you wanted to. There’s a huge vacuum. Someone of your stature could at least help close the ignorance gap, if not do much more.

    I could go on, but will close by just giving a few details about what I have been able to piece together about my experience of vulvodynia. I am 57 and have had it since I was 19. I also happen to have two other autoimmune conditions–hashimoto’s and RA. A few years ago I had a hysterectomy to remove fibroids, but the real reason I had it was because I was so sick and tired of chronic pelvic pain every day. The surgery did not fix it, and so I have been left to try to solve the mystery. My doctors have been useless. Since my hysterectomy I have developed interstitial cystitus and irritable bowel syndrome. Also, I’ve had depression all of my life but didn’t get somwhat effective treatment until I was 29. I was really hoping to not be yet another tale of misery on your website–but there’s some good news, at least in my view, and maybe it will help others.

    To keep it short, I will just say–mast cells, histamines, oxylates, food intolerance. I have been on a low histamine, low oxylate diet for only 2 weeks but am already getting real relief, which is huge to me. I got this info from online research, not from any doctor I saw. I will be glad to give more info to you or anyone else who wants it. Again, Dr. Northrup, I hope you will communicate what you know about this to the many women who look to you for help. And thanks very much for all you do for women.

    1. Linda
      2 years ago

      I have a 30 year old daughter who has been diagnosed with vulvodynia and my heart is breaking. As a mother we never want to see our children suffer. I have been doing research but I keep coming up with nothing. I read your story an I wanted to know more information on the low histamine, low oxylate diet that you are on. I find it very sad that these Dr’s who take an oath to help others are so very scares when it comes to a disease that insurance usually doesn’t cover. What ever happened to compassion. There are so many women of all ages suffering from this horrible disease and so little help is out there for them. Thank you for giving me hope and a new direction to go in.

      1. A
        2 years ago

        I don’t know if you are still checking this post but I would recommend that you check out:
        https://abigailsteidley.com/blog/

        She recovered and has helped others recover from vulvodynia.

  7. Wendy
    9 years ago

    I have a friend who is a yoga teacher and she is over 80. She looks 20 years younger than she is and still teaches 4 classes a week, and she is always beautifully dressed. When anyone compliments her on how amazing she is for her age she always replies that she doesn’t think about her age. She thinks of herself as ageless. I can’t believe Barbara Walters is 80! Wow.

  8. Robin
    9 years ago

    BRAVO! Thanks for helping the other woman shopper.

    p.s. Love your phrase: “hit and run pleasure intervention” 🙂

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