February 29, 2008

What are Vulvar Cysts – Causes, Symptoms and Abscess Treatment

Posted in Category : Women's Health

The outer parts of a female’s genital organs are known as the vulva. It is not a single part but rather, refers to the area around the genital organs and comprises of the labia majora, labia minora, clitoris, mons pubis and the vaginal opening. The structure of the vulva differs from woman to woman and may be responsible for some women being more susceptible to certain medical conditions than others. The multitude nerve endings and blood vessels in the area around the vulva make it an extremely sensitive and responsive part of a woman’s anatomy. As a result, any kind of sore, blister, lesion or cyst in this region can cause immense pain and discomfort to the woman.

A cyst is a closed sac just below the skin that is usually filled with pus. It can form at any place on the body and depending on its location, may be filled with fluid, semi-solid masses or sometimes, even gas. It appears as a boil on the skin and is usually caused by impacted hair follicles. Some cysts burst in time and clear up, while others can get infected leading to the formation of an abscess and will therefore require treatment.

A vulvar cyst is a medical term used to describe a cyst that forms in the vulvar region. It could refer to a cyst on the labia minora, clitoris or any other part of the vulva. Usually a cyst develops in an area where hair tends to grow, but this is not so in the case of vulvar cysts. There are many glands present in the vulvar region responsible for secreting a lot of mucus and fluids. These help keep the vagina clean as well as act as lubricants during sexual arousal. What causes a vulvar cyst is the blockage of any of these glands.

Cysts within the vulva are a much more difficult proposition to deal with than cysts located on the vulva. The former occurs within a fold of the skin and is less accessible and more painful for the woman. At times these cysts appear similar to the pimples that occur on the face while at other times they may appear as a large pus-filled cyst on vulva causing it to have a distorted, asymmetrical appearance.

The most common type of vulvar cyst is known as Bartholin’s cyst and is caused by the blockage of the Bartholin duct which leads to the gland. The exact cause of the blockage remains unknown but some studies seem to blame hormonal changes in the body that change the chemistry of the fluids being secreted. Another theory is that improper hydration in the body is the culprit while others blame it on periods of sexual inactivity, especially in older women, resulting in lower blood flow to the vulvar region.

Whatever the cause of vulvar cysts, it can cause a lot of pain and discomfort. Most cysts that do not clear up can become infected and result in inflammation and pain. These blood filled cysts can turn into abscesses and will require treatment. The doctor may decide to treat it with a course of antibiotics if an infection is detected or in case a sexually transmitted infection is detected. Larger or embedded cysts may require removal by surgical means. Surgery may also be required in cases where the cyst does not resolve by itself.

Some cases may require surgical drainage. This procedure is usually used in cases where the cyst is either very large or infected. It is performed using local anesthesia and sedation and involves the making of a small incision in the cyst which is then allowed to drain. A small catheter or rubber tube is then placed in the incision where it remains for up to six weeks. This allows the cyst to drain completely.

Vulvar cysts may recur and in such cases your doctor may resort to a procedure known as “marsupialization”. In this procedure, the doctor makes a drainage incision and places stitches on either side of the incision. This creates a permanent opening about ¼ inches in length. A catheter is inserted, allowing the cyst to drain. If there is an active infection, the abscess will be drained first and treated with antibiotics before the marsupialization is performed. For persistent cysts that do not respond to any of these treatments, doctors may resort to surgery to remove the affected gland.

Whatever the form of treatment decided upon by your doctor, certain measures can help alleviate the discomfort of a vulvar cyst. Sitting in a Sitz bath three to four times a day may help a small cyst to drain on its own. Another important precaution is to abstain from all forms of sexual activity till such time as the problem resolves.