How I was Treated with a Bartholin’s Gland Abscess

When I was 30 years old I experienced the pain and swelling of an abscess of one of my Bartholin’s Glands. First described by Caspar Bartholin, a Dutch anatomist in 1677, these are paired glands that maintain the moisture of the vaginal walls through their secretion of fluid. There is one of these pea-sized glands on both the left and the right, situated inside the body with a small opening into the vagina. The gland can swell up to the size of an orange when infected. When I was 30 years old I experienced the pain and swelling of an abscess of one of my Bartholin’s Glands. First described by Caspar Bartholin, a Dutch anatomist in 1677, these are paired glands that maintain the moisture of the vaginal walls through their secretion of fluid. There is one of these pea-sized glands on both the left and the right, situated inside the body with a small opening into the vagina. The gland can swell up to the size of an orange when infected.

When I was 30 years old I experienced the pain and swelling of an abscess of one of my Bartholin’s Glands. First described by Caspar Bartholin, a Dutch anatomist in 1677, these are paired glands that maintain the moisture of the vaginal walls through their secretion of fluid. There is one of these pea-sized glands on both the left and the right, situated inside the body with a small opening into the vagina. The gland can swell up to the size of an orange when infected.

These glands abscesses can form a cyst or an abscess with the highest incidence occurring in women aged 20 to 29 years of age. Women older than 40 rarely experience either incidence. A Bartholin cyst is thought to occur from a blockage of the opening, whereas an abscess is a primary infection of the gland by disease-producing bacteria. These bacteria can be transmitted through sex, though this is not always the case. A good preventative measure is to use condoms, if you’re sexually active, greatly reducing the introduction of bacteria.

In June of 1988, I began experiencing pain during intercourse, as well as a tightness or fullness the rest of the time. At first I thought it was something temporary or related to positioning, which sometimes occurs. One day in the shower I began exploring the outer area with my hand and discovered a lump or a swelling at the juncture of leg and body on my right side. I brought this to the attention of my partner who advised me to seek medical attention.

The doctor determined that the Bartholin’s gland on my right side was inflamed and swollen. I was given a prescription for antibiotics and an appointment was made to have it drained. In the days before the appointment the swelling and discomfort increased. It became quite uncomfortable to do most ordinary things, like walking, sitting, dressing and bending. I had to find a different sleeping position, take more care getting dressed, my clothes fit tighter and put pressure on the already sensitive area, in short I was in pain most of the time.

Finally it was time for my appointment. I was taken to the room, asked to disrobe, given a gown and told to lay on the table with my knees up and bent. I was given a local shot of Novocain to numb the area. Once the area was numb, the doctor made an incision in order to drain the gland of the built up infection. Similar to squeezing an inflamed pimple, the doctor squeezed out as much material as she could. The area was cleaned and I was allowed to dress. I was instructed to take sitz baths (a warm shallow bath one ‘sits’ in) several times per day to keep the area flushed of any further bacteria and to ease the discomfort. The pain and discomfort lessened tremendously directly after the gland was drained and was completely gone within a very few days.

My life went on, pain free, for several months. In October of that same year, I began experiencing the same symptoms. This time everything was accelerated. The pain came on more suddenly, the swelling developed more quickly and I was in excruciating pain almost immediately. I called my regular gynecologist who told me to get to the hospital and check in. I was scheduled for surgery with a colleague of his almost immediately.

This time the medical handling was a marsupialization of the opening. In other words, the edges of the opening are slightly widened and then sewn open. This tends to insure that it will not become blocked again which leads to the inflammation and swelling. This is a fairly simple and fast procedure, often done with only local anesthesia. In my case, I was given a general anesthetic and the procedure was done in an operating room. I stayed the night and was released from the hospital the next day.

One of the ‘highlights’ of my hospital stay was having the nurse come in to check the drainage, while my boyfriend was sitting on the bed visiting me. She came in, quickly lifted my gown and whipped down my underwear in order to view how much drainage there was. It happened so suddenly I had no time to protest in outraged modesty. Of course, my boyfriend got a nice look at my ‘business’, too, for which I’m sure he was pleasantly surprised.

I’m 48, now, and in the intervening years have never had any further occurrences of pain or swelling related to either Bartholin Glands. Apparently the marsupialization did the trick and all is in order and functioning properly.

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