The human body isn't perfectly smooth. It's prone to developing various lumps and bumps. Cysts are just one type of growth many people get. These sac-like lumps are filled with fluid, air, or other materials. They're not usually harmful or painful.
Some cysts are so small that they can't be seen with the naked eye. Others can grow to the size of an orange.
There are several different types of vaginal cysts:
- Inclusion cysts are one of the most common types of vaginal cysts. They are usually very small and located in the lower back of the vaginal wall.
- Bartholin's gland cysts are fluid-filled cysts that form on the Bartholin's glands. These glands sit on either side of the opening to the vagina and produce the fluid that lubricates the vaginal lips (labia).
- Gartner's duct cysts occur when ducts in a developing embryo don't disappear as they are supposed to after the baby is born. These remaining ducts can form vaginal cysts later in life.
- Müllerian cysts are another common type of vaginal cyst that form from structures left behind when a baby develops. These cysts can grow anywhere on the vaginal walls and they often contain mucus.
Vaginal Cyst Causes
Vaginal cysts usually form when a gland or duct becomes clogged, causing liquid or another material to collect inside. The cause of a vaginal cyst depends on its type.
Inclusion cysts are caused by trauma to the vaginal walls. For example, women may get an inclusion cyst after they have an episiotomy (a surgical cut used to enlarge the vaginal opening during childbirth) or when they have surgery that damages the lining of the vagina.
Bartholin's gland cysts are caused when the opening to the Bartholin's gland becomes blocked -- such as by a flap of skin -- creating a fluid-filled growth. An abscess can result from a number of bacteria including those that cause sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. Bacteria normally found in the intestinal tract, such as E. coli, can also lead to Bartholin's abscesses.
Vaginal Cyst Symptoms
Vaginal cysts usually don't cause symptoms. If you have one of these cysts, you might feel a small lump along the vaginal wall or on the lips. Often, your gynecologist will discover the lump during your annual exam. The cyst might stay the same size or grow larger.
The cyst shouldn't be painful. However, some larger cysts -- especially Bartholin's gland cysts -- can cause discomfort when you walk, have sex, or insert a tampon.
Cysts are more likely to cause pain when they get infected. Vaginal cysts can become infected by the normal bacteria found on the skin or by a sexually transmitted infection. Infected vaginal cysts can form an abscess -- a pus-filled lump that can be very painful.
Vaginal Cyst Treatments
Vaginal cysts usually don't need to be treated. Often they will remain small and not cause any problems. Your health care provider may just want to monitor the cyst's growth during routine exams.
You might need to have a biopsy of the cyst to rule out cancer. During a biopsy, your health care provider removes a piece of tissue from the cyst. That piece of tissue is examined under a microscope to see if it is cancerous.
To relieve any discomfort you're having from a vaginal cyst, sit in a bathtub filled with a few inches of warm water (called a sitz bath) several times a day for three or four days.
To treat an infected vaginal cyst, you may need to take antibiotics.
If a vaginal cyst is large and filled with fluid (like a Bartholin's cyst), your health care provider can insert a small tube called a catheter to drain it. You will have to keep the catheter in place for about four to six weeks. You could also have a procedure in which a small incision is made in the cyst to drain the fluid (called marsupialization).
It's also possible to have surgery to remove the entire cyst if you're very uncomfortable or the cyst keeps returning. Some health care providers recommend that women over age 40 have surgery to remove certain types of vaginal cysts because of the possibility they might be cancerous. Cysts that are treated with surgery usually don't come back.