Now, ladies, this may well put you off your cornflakes but I think it needs talking about. If you have ever experienced the misery of Bartholin’s Cysts which then become Bartholin’s abscesses, you will know exactly what I am talking about.
Yes – this is one of those delightful gynaecological problems that can appear out of the blue and cause recurrent misery for years.
The Bartholin Glands are two pea-sized glands located slightly posterior and to the left and right of the opening of the vagina. Their function is to secrete mucus to lubricate the vagina. This lubrication may help make sex a little more comfortable for women.
Sometimes, however, these glands can become blocked which results in the formation of a Bartholin’s Cyst. These cysts can grow in size so that it is actually painful to sit or walk.
Believe it or not, many women don’t even know that these glands exist. And many cysts are not diagnosed until an examination such as a smear is carried out by a medical professional. You can have a Bartholin’s cyst for years without it causing you too many problems.
If, however, infection occurs, the result is an incredibly painful Bartholin’s abscess which may require drainage or surgery to get rid of it.
Nobody seems to be entirely sure what causes these cysts – the usual suspects are all there, stress, poor hygiene, bad diet, STIs and, rarely vulval cancer. For this reason, if you think you may have one you MUST go to your GP to get it checked out.
The peak age for getting these delightful swines is between 20-30 and in theory, once you reach menopause the Bartholin’s Glands are supposed to shrink so that you no longer suffer this problem. Great in theory but since I’m 51, rubbish in practice.
I had an abscess about 10 years ago and have a small Bartholin’s cyst at present so believe me I am speaking from experience here.
Treating a Bartholin’s Cyst
Usually, the first course of action to treat a possibly infected cyst is a course of antibiotics. In my experience this is a rather hit and miss method of treatment and, if the antibiotics cure the problem, there is no guarantee that it will not reappear.
At this stage, the home treatment advice tends to be to take over-the-counter painkillers and to take a sitz bath 3-4 times a day.
A sitz bath is a warm, shallow bath that cleanses the vulval area and can be used for everyday personal hygiene. It can also provide relief from pain or itching in the genital area.
You can give yourself a sitz bath in your bathtub or with a plastic kit that fits over your toilet.
Marsupialization is the surgical technique of cutting a slit into an abscess or cyst and suturing the edges of the slit to form a continuous surface from the exterior surface to the interior surface of the cyst or abscess – in other words, creating a pouch which allows drainage.
My marsupialization was done as a day surgery appointment and the recovery time was quoted as being 2 weeks. At least 6 weeks was closer to the mark and, what I was not told at the time, some sensitivity remains due to the scar tissue left behind.
Fear of surgery, particularly ‘down below’ leads many women to seek home cures and there are many sites which discuss the methods which have worked for them.
These are some suggestions but please note that their success is anecdotal and reported on various forum boards.
Dose – 5 pellets under the tongue 2 or 3 times a day.
Information on the Wisegeek.org website tells us that:-
“Silicea is derived from flint or quartz and is an abundant mineral naturally found in the Earth’s crust. Part of the structural makeup of bone and cartilage, the remedy is present in humans as a trace element. It can be found in connective tissues as well as hair, skin, and nails.
People who use this mineral believe that its cleansing effects make it particularly useful in treating dry skin, nails, or hair. This mineral is sometimes used to improve acne, blemishes, ulcers, boils, inflammation, or generally sickly skin. Infections from abscesses, skin eruptions, glass shards, and splinters may also be treated with it. Some people also use it in hopes of preventing hair loss and dandruff, and to reduce scar tissue visibility.”
I am currently trying this cure at the moment which I found here.
Silica Complex is a dietary supplement which usually takes its Silica from Horsetail Extract and is combined with other vitamins and minerals.
These are the kind of tablets referred to.
These are usually taken to help improve the quality of skin, hair and nails. This particular tablet contains calcium, magnesium and zinc as well as the Horsetail extract.
You can also buy a sitz bath which is simply placed over the bowl of the toilet and filled so that you don’t have to undress to have a full bath each time.
Hands up, I don’t know who Phoebe is but her ‘cure’ for Bartholin’s cysts is much talked about on the health boards. It is simply this:-
Soak a gauze pad in the solution and press against the cyst for about 30 minutes.
Dose: 2 a day on an empty tummy. I found mine on Amazon.
Serrapeptase is derived from the Silk Worm and is claimed to help eliminate inflammatory oedema and swelling by breaking down abnormal fluids and protein and by promoting the absorption of these decomposed products through blood and lymphatic vessels. It could also break down and liquefy mucus secretions and fibrin clots and help antibiotics to focus on infection.
There seems, however, to be insufficient clinical evidence to prove its efficacy in reducing Bartholin’s cysts.
Finally, you might be interested in a book you can download for Kindle entitled Bartholin Cyst Miracle Method.
The book promises to help us learn how many women have cured their Bartholin’s cysts and exactly what they did to treat them in the privacy of their own homes with no doctors or painful surgery. It promises to “reveal the exact method now used by countless women to get rid of their Bartholin’s cysts for good”.
Obviously, I am not a doctor and the first course of action, if you suspect that you have a Bartholin’s cyst, is to see your GP.
It would be remiss of me to suggest that you go off gung-ho and try these without prior discussion with your healthcare provider.
But let’s live in the real world, shall we?
If the provision of gynaecological services were better in the UK and if doctors were a little more sympathetic to problems like this, then the health boards of various forums would be a lot less busy.
The number one response of GPs to any gynae problem seems to be a combination of antibiotics and Canesten.
Women know their own bodies better than any GP but this knowledge does not help them to make themselves heard when it matters most.
I will continue with my antibiotics and Silicea 30c. I will try sitz baths and add a silica complex supplement to my diet.
Since I had my marsupialization I have had no further problem on that side (right), other than frequent irritation from the scar tissue. I hope that I don’t have to go through the whole process again on the left!
Bartholin’s cysts and abscesses are incredibly frustrating because there is a reluctance to treat them until the level of discomfort and/or infection is intolerable to the sufferer.
Is it any wonder that many of us, at least those of us who are brave enough to talk about it, are desperately seeking our own cure and would prefer to trust the anecdotal evidence of other women than our overstretched NHS.
Please see your GP before trying any of the supplements listed above.
Since this post was first published in 2016 I have had no further reoccurrences of Bartholin’s Cysts. If I have a ‘twinge’, I rely on the homoeopathic remedy Silicea 30c and Serrapeptase tablets and if that hasn’t settled matters, go back to my GP for a course of antibiotics. The marsupialization of my abscess did, for all intents and purposes, work.
I am now under the care of a women’s health physio and I cannot recommend her highly enough. Prior to reading Me & My Menopausal Vagina by the marvellous Jane Lewis, I did not even know this type of physio existed.
Basically, a women’s health physio treats all disorders affecting the pelvis and pelvic floor. So this would include things such as incontinence, prolapse, pelvic pain and constipation. There is growing evidence that physiotherapy can alleviate and in many cases cure the symptoms of these.
Why is this important you may wonder?
Because I receive a thorough internal examination by someone who is far more experienced in recognising things like Bartholin’s Cysts and abscesses – and more interested in helping resolve them.
I pay to see her privately and of course, I appreciate that not everyone has the funds to do this, but for years I have had a Simply Health Cash Plan which allows you to claim for the first couple of sessions on your policy. This is enough to gauge whether you think a women’s health physio will be helpful to you.
Note that you will be examined internally (but discretely and with utmost care) but all the vaginal symptoms you have been wondering about can be diagnosed – for example, vaginal atrophy and lichen sclerosis.
Thanks to my physio (Gilliam McCabe in Cardiff), I have now been re-referred to the gynae department of our local hospital to have my vaginal atrophy examined. However, were a Bartholin’s Cyst to be diagnosed, I am sure that your chances of seeing a specialist would be dramatically increased by a letter from your women’s health physio.
Earlier this year the gland on the right side appeared to be swollen slightly and it looks as if I was about to get another Bartholin’s cyst. I was advised to see the GP and received a course of antibiotics which appeared to calm the gland down again.
Thankfully the ‘twinge’ seems to have gone but I have learned that related health conditions seem to affect what goes on down below in general.
One of these is constipation so I have upped my water intake by buying one of those water bottles with a built-in straw which gives you set amounts to drink every two hours. I have also just invested in psyllium husk capsules to soften the stool and also a squatty potty so that evacuation is done in the correct posture.
Stress also seems to play a part in blocking the glands so I would recommend a book on mindful thinking or meditation.
Sleep is vital for coping with these evil little buggers so my recent investments have included new earplugs and a sleep mask which blocks out early morning sunshine. I am trying to get myself to go to bed earlier but I’m still working on it!
I also use lubricants by Yes.org on a regular basis, their water-based and oil-based lubricants and also their vaginal moisturiser. I have now been prescribed Ovestin estrogen cream to use twice a week (or as and when as the amount of ‘HRT’ contained in the cream is minuscule.
All of this is important because for years, many of us ignore our vaginas and don’t consider that we need a routine to care for them as we do for any other part of the body.
If you suffer from Bartholin’s cysts, you need to get to know your body to manage the condition. You may find that you start to recognise when the glands are getting blocked (for example it may hurt when you become aroused). If you know what you are dealing with, it takes a little of the fear away and you are better able to tell your doctor (not ask!) what you need.
The reassurance I get from visiting a women’s health physio is worth her fee a hundred times over.
Self-treatment can and does sometimes work but at any sign of an infection which makes you feel ill, then you must see a doctor.
What has become clear, since writing this post, is that many women are suffering from a Bartholin’s Cyst and yet there doesn’t seem to be any treatment other than antibiotics, catheters or marsupialisation.
Time for a lot more research to be done – don’t you think?
As ever I am happy to answer any questions you may have and if I can’t answer them then I’ll try to find someone who can.
And remember, you are not alone – and I do understand how utterly miserable Bartholin’s Cysts can make you feel and how painful a Bartholin’s Abscess can be.