Vulvar Bumps/Cysts

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Vulvar Bumps/Cysts

Bumps and cysts on the vulva can present in many different forms and can mean many different things. This article is an overview of the most common types of vulvar bumps and cysts. As always, see your health care professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Contents


What causes vulvar bumps/cysts?

There are many causes for vulvar bumps and cysts, and depending on how they present, the resulting conditions can be anywhere from harmless (Fordyce spots) to serious (HPV). As Dr. Trisha Macnair and BBC Health note, "There are many reasons why lumps and bumps can form in the area of the vulva (the outer, visible skin folds of the female genital tract) and the vagina (the internal muscular passage), and most of these are relatively harmless."

Dr. Frederick R. Jelovsek elaborates: "There are several skin structures on the vulva that can become infected or grow into nodules and bumps that can be quite irritating. As with any skin, there are hair follicles, sweat glands and other skin glands such as Bartholin glands, and vestibule glands. Infectious agents such as viruses and bacteria can cause skin lumps as well."

Below is a list of the most common types of bumps and cysts found on the vulva (it is by no means comprehensive).

Most Common Types of Vulvar Bumps/Cysts:
  • Fordyce's spots
  • Bartholin's cysts
  • Sebaceous cysts
  • Ingrown hairs
  • STIs, such as HSV or HPV

Fordyce's Spots

Named after American dermatologist John Addison Fordyce, Fordyce's spots are small, painless, raised, white or pale spots or bumps 1 to 3 mm in diameter that may appear on the labia, as well as the inner surface and vermilion border of the lips of the face. They are common women at any age (NOTE: men also commonly experience Fordyce's spots on the penis).

They are a form of ectopic sebaceous gland, and are not known to be associated with any disease or illness and are of cosmetic concern only. They are non-infectious and a totally natural occurrence on the body. This PubMed article tells us that Fordyce spots are extremely common in adults.

USC notes that once Fordyce's spots are diagnosed, no treatment is necessary.

Click here to see what one VPer's Fordyce spots look like (NSFW).

Bartholin's Cysts

What are Bartholin's cysts?

The U of Michigan Health System says that "a Bartholin's gland cyst is a fluid-filled swelling of a Bartholin's gland. Bartholin's glands are two small glands on each side of the opening of the vagina (birth canal). These glands are called Bartholin's glands. They each have a small duct (tube) that opens to the outside. The glands produce a fluid that helps protect the tissues around the vagina and provides lubrication during sexual intercourse. Normally these glands cannot be felt or seen. A cyst may develop when the duct of one of the glands becomes swollen and blocked. Injury, irritation, or infection may cause a buildup of fluid and swelling that blocks the duct."

Symptoms

Here is a list of the most common symptoms women experience with Bartholin's cysts:

Symptoms of Bartholin's Cysts:
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse
  • Pain when wearing tight underwear/pants
  • Sometimes swollen, red and/or irritated labia

Diagnosis

Make an appointment to see your health care provider. S/he will ask about your symptoms and will examine your vulva and vagina to look for a swollen area at the vaginal opening. The swelling will be diagnosed as a cyst if it is not painful. If it is painful and infected, it is called a Bartholin's gland abscess.

Treatment

How are Bartholin's cysts treated? This list from the University of Michigan offers the following alternatives:

Treatment Options for Bartholin's Cysts:
  • Sometimes the cyst will go away if you put warm, moist cloths (compresses) on it or sit in warm baths. The moist heat can help unblock the opening so that the fluid can drain out. With the treatment of warm compresses, the cyst may go away in 3 to 5 days. Sometimes the cyst does not go away with this treatment.
  • Nonprescription medicine such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen may help relieve the pain associated with Bartholin's cysts.
  • Your health care provider may make a small cut over the gland, making an opening so fluid can drain out from the cyst. Your provider may then sew the opening in a way that leaves it open to help prevent it from tearing and getting bigger. This is usually done with a local anesthetic so that you don't feel pain during the procedure. This treatment is called marsupialization. The cyst usually goes away almost immediately after your health care provider makes an incision for drainage.
  • Your health care provider may make a tiny cut in the cyst and insert a catheter (a very small tube) into the cyst for a few weeks. The catheter helps form a passageway for fluid produced by the gland. Ask your health care provider about any precautions you should take while the catheter is in place. Your provider will remove the catheter in 4 to 6 weeks. The passageway should stay open after the catheter is removed, preventing another cyst.
  • A cyst may become infected. It may form an abscess and become very painful. If a cyst is infected, your health care provider may drain it and prescribe an antibiotic.
  • Sometimes the whole gland needs to be surgically removed, especially if the cyst often comes back. The Bartholin's gland can be removed without damage to that area of the vaginal opening. You can have sexual intercourse without the gland.
  • Sometimes a cyst may recur over and over again if the whole gland is not removed. If you experience recurring Bartholin's cysts, talk to your health care provider about glad removal options.

How do I know when it's time to call my health care provider?

Call your health care provider if you have any of these signs of infection:

Call Your Health Care Provider Upon Experiencing:
  • redness around the cyst
  • fever over 100°F (37.8°C)
  • pain
  • more swelling.

How can I help prevent a Bartholin's gland cyst?

The University of Michigan offers the following preventative measures:

How to Prevent Bartholin's Cysts:
  • Make sure you keep the vulva clean with warm water (you may also want to use a mild soap).
  • Avoid hard or deep rubbing in the area around the opening of the vagina.
  • If you take long bike rides or ride horses a lot, try to protect your genital area by cushioning it with soft padding.
  • Take a warm bath once or twice a week.

Nabothian Cysts

Okay, so these aren't quite vulvar. Natbothian cysts are basically tiny little bumps on your cervix. As the National Library of Medicine explains:

The cervical canal is lined by glandular cells that normally secrete mucus. These endocervical glands can become covered by squamous epithelium in a process called metaplasia.

These nests of glandular cells (nabothian glands) on the cervix may become filled with secretions. As secretions accumulate, a smooth, rounded lump may form just under the surface of the cervix and become large enough to be seen or felt upon examination.

Each cyst appears as a small, white, pimple-like elevation. They can occur singly or in groups, and they are not a threat to health. The cysts are more common in women of reproductive age, especially those who have already had children.

Nabothian cysts are not harmful and generally do not require treatment.

Sebaceous Cysts

As MedLinePlus notes, a sebaceous cyst is a (benign) closed sac found just under the skin containing pasty- or cheesy-looking skin secretions. They most often arise from swollen hair follicles, or as a result of skin trauma. What actually happens is that a sac of cells is created into which a protein called keratin is secreted.

In most cases, your physician can diagnose a cyst based on its appearance. Occasionally, a biopsy may be needed to rule out other conditions with a similar appearance.

Sebaceous cysts are not dangerous and can usually be ignored. At times, they may become inflamed and tender. Others may grow large and interfere with day-to-day life. In these cases, you can have them surgically removed in a physician's office.

Call your health care provider if you notice any new growths on your body. Though cysts are not dangerous, your doctor should examine you to ensure that you're not mistaking what you see for a more serious condition.

Ingrown Hairs/Folliculitis

MedLinePlus says that folliculitis kicks in when hair follicles are damaged by friction from clothing, blockage of the follicle or shaving. It usually results in the development of a pimple or cyst on the skin's surface and generally produces less discomfort than sebaceous cysts.

Ingrown hairs can often appear around the vulva from shaving and other types of hair removal processes. Check out this Vulvapedia article on how to prevent shaving-induced ingrown hairs.

A diagnosis is primarily based on the appearance of the skin. The skin infection is shallow, superficial and benign. You may want to get an initial diagnosis to make sure what you're dealing with is really an ingrown hair and not a more serious condition.

Herpes (HSV-1/HSV-2)

Herpes (or Herpes Simplex Virus) is a common and usually mild infection that can cause "cold sores" or "fever blisters" on the mouth or face (known as "oral herpes") and similar symptoms in the genital area ("genital herpes"). There are two types of herpes simplex virus (HSV): HSV-1 and HSV-2.

Click here (NSFW) to see a photograph of what genital herpes looks like.

To get more information on this very common STI, check out this Vulvapedia article on HSV.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a common condition. There are about 100 different types of HPV which affect various parts of the body in different ways. Most common warts, like plantar warts and butcher’s warts, are caused by strains of HPV. Around 30 strains of HPV are sexually transmitted.

Sexually-transmitted strains of HPV are generally classified as either “high risk” or “low risk.” Low-risk strains of HPV are most commonly associated with genital warts, while high-risk strains are associated with cervical dysplasia and, in rare cases, cervical cancer.

As the CDC explains, "Genital warts [the most well-known ailment caused by HPV] usually appear as soft, moist, pink, or flesh-colored swellings, usually in the genital area. They can be raised or flat, single or multiple, small or large, and sometimes cauliflower shaped. They can appear on the vulva, in or around the vagina or anus, on the cervix, and on the penis, scrotum, groin, or thigh. After sexual contact with an infected person, warts may appear within weeks or months, or not at all."

Click here (NSFW) to see a photograph of one woman's genital warts.

To get more information on this very common condition, check out this Vulvapedia article on HPV.

More Information

Check out what VPers have to say about vulvar bumps/cysts in VP on LJ.


NOTES AND DISCLAIMERS: This FAQ (and VP) is no substitute for medical care. Much of the information above has been adapted from the indicated sources. Click on the links to see their original text or to get more information. Any non-quoted items come from the VP Team's personal experience, which, again, is no substitute for medical care. As always, there is a limit to the information internet resources can provide; if you require additional assistance, it's best to contact an appropriate professional.

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