After what seemed like an impossible effort to get my gynecologist to perform the surgery I knew I needed, followed by an overnight stay in the hospital and a relatively painful recovery, my Bartholin's cyst is back again.
A Bartholin's cyst occurs when either one of the two Bartholin's glands, located on either side of the vaginal opening, becomes obstructed, causing the fluid usually secreted by the gland to back up in the gland and form a cyst. If the cyst becomes infected, it becomes an abscess.
Potential causes of a Bartholin's cyst
About 2 percent of women experience a Bartholin's cyst at some point in their lives. There is no definitive known cause for this kind of cyst. Some cases can be attributed to sexual injuries, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), bacterial infections or irritation in the vulvar area of the vagina, according to an article by Charlie C. Kilpatrick, M.D., vice chair of education and residency program director in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
In my case, I first noticed the cyst in my second year of college. I was 22 and had only just begun exploring my sexuality, what kind of sex I liked or if I liked it at all. So the day I woke up to discover that I had a lump the size of a pea near my vaginal opening, I was more than stressed. The pain in those first couple of days was unimaginable. I experienced discomfort when walking and sitting, and always had to keep my legs apart to alleviate the pressure on the lump.
It took less than three months for the lump to grow from the size of a pea to the size of a cherry tomato. In those weeks, I noticed a pattern. The cyst shrank if I abstained from any sexual activity. The more sex I had, the larger it got. The larger it got, the more self-conscious I became.
I eventually stopped having sex altogether.
It was not until I searched the internet that I realized how many other women were suffering from the same issue — I was not alone. One woman on Reddit said that when she woke up with a swollen left labia and a tiny bump, she figured it was the result of a drunken night of rough sex—until the bump doubled in size within the following days.
Treatment for a Bartholin's cyst varies depending on its severity. Home remedies are usually recommended if the cyst is small and relatively painless. These remedies include taking a sitz bath, in which you sit in a bathtub filled with warm water several times a day until the cyst disappears or bursts. I like to add about two to three tablespoons of salt to the warm water. Salt is known to have antibacterial properties and can help wounds heal.
Over-the-counter medicine, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, may be used to relieve the pain from the cyst, according to Cleveland Clinic.
If the cyst is not resolving on its own or with at-home remedies, your doctor may recommend surgical procedures. The cyst may be drained by inserting a catheter into it. The catheter is left in place for a few weeks until drainage is complete. This procedure is usually done under a local anesthetic.
Or you may undergo a surgery called marsupialization. With this procedure, your doctor cuts a small slit into the cyst, allowing it to drain. The edges of the cyst are then sutured to the surrounding tissue, forming an opening or tract that allows the fluid to drain rather than build up.
If the cyst is not resolving on its own or with at-home remedies, your doctor may recommend surgical procedures.
I did all the home remedies I could find on the internet. None of them provided a permanent solution. The only thing I could do was abstain from sex for lengths at a time so the cyst could shrink long enough for me to have sex without reeling from my low self-confidence. Eventually, the cyst became infected.
I approached my gynecologist with questions about undergoing the marsupialization procedure. He told me my cyst did not require this type of surgery. Instead, he drained the cyst with a syringe and advised me that if the cyst came back, only then would he perform the marsupialization.
Unfortunately, my cyst would soon be back.
Even though my gynecologist was then willing to perform the marsupialization, my cyst came back again about six months after the surgery. Research shows that approximately 5 percent to 15 percent of Bartholin's cysts come back after marsupialization.
I have since consulted a different gynecologist, who has scheduled the complete removal of my Bartholin's gland. This is the last resort and not lightly considered. However, given my history of cyst recurrence, my new gynecologist and I decided it was the best option.
I am looking forward to my procedure as I have lived with this cyst for the past six years, during which it has made it difficult for me to be open with my sexual partners and, most importantly, enjoy myself.