Check Up: Treating Bartholin's abscess

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November 03, 2015

Dear Readers,

Tania writes from Bridgeport, St Catherine, about a painful swelling in her genetalia. She was told she had a Bartholin's abscess some months ago, and was treated with antibiotics.

The swelling went away but recurred recently with serious discomfort. She could hardly walk. Her doctor slit it and she experienced instant relief but worries about further recurrence.

The Bartholin's glands, located on each side of the vaginal entrance, secrete fluids which help lubricate the vagina. When the opening to one of these glands becomes obstructed, fluid backs up, resulting in a painless swelling called Bartholin's cyst.

If the cyst becomes infected then the gland becomes an abcess, inflamed and filled with pus. The abscess can be over an inch in diameter and pain experienced can be extreme.

Bartholin's cysts and abscesses occur commonly. Although most people who experience a Bartholin's abscess recover completely, there is a chance of recurrence.

Symptoms of a Bartholin's abscess include:

• Tender, painful lump near vaginal entrance

• Discomfort while walking or sitting

• Pain with intercourse

• Fever

There is no sure method to prevent a Bartholin's abscess but practising safe sex, using a condom and practising good hygiene can help to prevent infection of a cyst and formation of an abscess.

Bartholin's cysts can be treated at home in the early stages by using sitz baths several times daily. The female sits over very warm water in a pan or bath and allows the heat to soothe the pain and to ripen the abscess for contents to flow out naturally.

If the abscess is large or very painful, it can be surgically drained in the doctor's office using local anesthetics. Antibiotics are usually also prescribed as bacteria such as E. coli, or sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, may cause the infections. Prescription pain medication can also be prescribed if necessary.

When Bartholin's abscesses recur often and impact the quality of life negatively, the doctor may perform marsupialization where the incision is stitched open permanently to allow maximal drainage. Another rarely needed alternative is to permanently surgically excise the Bartholin's gland.

The abscess recurs in about one in 10 cases. For most women the chances of a full recovery is excellent!

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