I'm scared. I found a lump at the side of my vagina. It's only there when I have my period. Is it natural?
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Vaginal lumps are bumps or other textured growths that protrude from the vagina. They can be very tiny or noticeably large, and they can occur both on the outside folds of the flesh as well as on the inner walls within the body cavity. This means that they might be noticed right away, but not necessarily. A great many things can cause them, but cysts, which are fluid-filled sacs, are usually the most common; inflamed or infected glands might also be to blame. Polyps often cause lumps that appear internally, particularly those that are very small. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like herpes and genital warts can also cause fluid-filled bumps on the vagina and surrounding skin. Anyone who is concerned about lumps and bumps they’ve noticed is usually advised to get a professional medical opinion. In most cases only experts specially trained in gynecology are able to make an accurate diagnosis, and it’s usually true that the earlier proper treatment starts, the better.
Whether or not vaginal lumps will have any symptoms depends almost entirely on what is causing them. Some women feel perfectly fine and are somewhat alarmed to see bumps on the surface. In other instances, nothing looks out of the ordinary but a woman may be suffering from intensive cramps or other regionalized pain. Vaginal bleeding that happens apart from menstruation can also be a sign that something is amiss. Smaller lumps and those that are situated on the internal vaginal walls can often only be detected by ultrasound or physical exam.
Sebaceous cysts are probably the most common cause. They are formed from a blocked sebaceous, or sweat, gland, or can result from an ingrown hair. They can be aggravated by shaving the vaginal area or by wearing tight underwear that interferes with the function of the sweat glands. These sorts of lumps can become infected and quite painful, especially if squeezed.
If a woman thinks she may have a sebaceous cyst, she should visit her doctor and not attempt to squeeze or pinch the lump. Although these often look like pimples, popping them can spread infection and in many cases will actually make the condition worse. They aren’t usually an indication of a disease or illness, so women don't usually need to be too concerned. Just the same, a course of antibiotics may be prescribed if an infection is detected.
Bartholian's glands are found on either side of the entrance to the vaginal canal, and are responsible for lubricating the vagina. Sometimes these glands can become blocked, causing fluid to back up into the gland; when this happens, a cyst known medically as a “Bartholian cyst” often forms. These are usually painless, but if a woman experiences vaginal pressure or inflammation there may be an infection. Some Bartholian cysts can be treated at home, and many will actually go away on their own with time. In most cases the lumps are small and painless, and might not even be noticed. If the issue leads to infection, though, antibiotics and possibly even surgical draining may be necessary.
Vaginal polyps are another possible cause, though these usually happen only on the inner walls of the vaginal opening and can’t usually be detected without specialized medical equipment. Unless vaginal bleeding or pelvic pain occurs, they do not require treatment. Often these lumps go unnoticed, and they don’t usually cause any symptoms. They can be surgically removed if they are very large or painful, though, or if they are interfering with things like intercourse or if they’re suspected as a possible cause in conception problems.
STDs are another possibility. Herpes is one of the most common culprits, and often appears as small vaginal lumps at first. With time these lumps usually change into fluid-filled blisters and sores, many of which break open and can become quite painful. There may also be an odor associated with this condition. Genital warts often look like small lumps under the skin and are usually painless. They are caused by the HPV virus, which could lead to more serious conditions such as cervical cancer if left untreated. Both conditions are highly contagious.
STDs are almost always avoidable. It's important for a woman to practice safe sex and to be examined by a medical professional for the proper diagnosis and treatment. Neither disease is curable, but with the proper precautions, such as using a latex condom during sex, the disease can be managed to minimize the symptoms.
Getting to the root of what’s causing a vaginal lump almost always requires a medical exam. Women may be able to make a good guess based on their symptoms and recent activities, but lab work and examination by a trained professional is usually the only way to get a firm diagnosis. Once a healthcare provider has narrowed down the cause, he or she can recommend a targeted course of treatment that is specific to the individual, the condition, and the overall prognosis.