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The two Bartholin glands, each about the size of a hazelnut, are mucus-secreting glands lying toward the back of the labia majora. They have openings on the inner surfaces of the labia minora, near the vaginal orifice, and become active during sexual excitement, providing a clear, odorless lubricant that facilitates intercourse.

Infection of a Bartholin gland duct is quite common and may lead to blockage. The result is an accumulation of mucus in the gland, which becomes enlarged so that an obvious swelling of the labium occurs. So long as the cyst remains uninfected, the condition remains painless and is no more than a minor inconvenience. Infection, however, leads to abscess formation with pain, redness, great tenderness, and a swelling that may be as large as a hen’s egg.

Once an abscess has formed, antibiotics are of little value, and surgical drainage is likely to be necessary. This is minor operation, usually performed under a brief general anesthetic. In most cases, a drain will be left in place for a few days after the operation.

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