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Vulvar abscess

Gweneth B Lazenby, MD
Andrea R Thurman, MD
David E Soper, MD
Section Editors
Howard T Sharp, MD
Daniel J Sexton, MD
Deputy Editor
Sandy J Falk, MD, FACOG


Vulvar abscess is a common gynecologic problem that has the potential to result in severe illness [1]. These abscesses typically originate as simple infections that develop in the vulvar skin or subcutaneous tissues. Spread of infection and abscess formation in the vulvar area is facilitated by the loose areolar tissue in the subcutaneous layers and the contiguity of the vulvar fascial planes with the groin and anterior abdominal wall.

The microbiology, diagnosis, and management of vulvar abscesses are discussed here. Bartholin gland abscesses and other vulvar lesions are discussed in detail separately. (See "Bartholin gland masses: Diagnosis and management" and "Vulvar lesions: Diagnostic evaluation".)


The external female genitalia are referred to as the vulva (figure 1).

Skin and glands — Hair follicles and sweat and sebaceous glands of the vulvar skin are common sites of infection and abscess formation. The mons and labia majora are covered with hair, while the labia minora are not.

Two major vulvar glands underlie the vestibule; these are the Bartholin glands (also referred to as the greater vestibular gland) and the paraurethral (Skene) glands. The Bartholin glands drain through the Bartholin ducts, located bilaterally in the vestibule at approximately the four and eight o'clock positions with respect to the vaginal introitus. The paraurethral glands empty through Skene’s ducts, which are located bilaterally just inferior and lateral to the urethral meatus (figure 1 and figure 2) [2].

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Sep 15, 2017.
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