Stephen Colbert's Appendix Ruptured — What Does That Mean?

When an appendix bursts, it's a potentially life-threatening medical emergency.

In a recent Facebook post, Stephen Colbert, host of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, which airs on CBS, announced he had experienced a ruptured appendix and underwent surgery. CBS reports that his show is canceled until he recovers.

In the post, Colbert said, "Sorry to say that I have to cancel our shows this week. I'm sure you're thinking, 'Turkey overdose, Steve? Gravy boat capsize?' Actually, I'm recovering from surgery for a ruptured appendix."

But what occurs when a person's appendix bursts or ruptures, and how do you know if it's happening?

What to know about appendicitis

The appendix is a small, finger-shaped organ attached to the large bowel on the right side of the abdomen. It's thought to be a useless organ. However, recent theories suggest that animals with an appendix may live longer, most likely due to its role in promoting the colonization of essential bacteria.

Though it mostly sits idle, sometimes the appendix can become infected and inflamed, resulting in appendicitis. In the United States, about five to nine out of 100 people experience appendicitis in their lifetime. It's slightly more likely to happen to teenagers and those in their early 20s, and men experience it more often than women.

When appendicitis occurs, it causes pain in the lower right part of the abdomen. If it becomes infected, blood flow can decrease, and the organ can develop holes or burst. As it ruptures, it can cause stool and infection to leak into the area around the internal organs, leading to a severe infection called peritonitis. People with a burst appendix can also develop sepsis, a life-threatening infection throughout the body.

A burst appendix is considered a medical emergency. To treat the condition, doctors usually perform surgery to remove the damaged appendix and any infection in the surrounding tissue. Surgery can be laparoscopic or traditional. In general, people recover faster after a laparoscopic operation versus conventional, open surgery.

Though one study suggests that treating appendicitis with antibiotics might be effective, when scientists followed participants involved in the study for a more extended period, they found that nearly 50% ended up having their appendix removed two years after antibiotic treatment.

What are the warning signs of a burst appendix?

Appendicitis can cause pain that starts near the belly button and then moves to the lower right part of the abdomen. The pain usually gets worse over time, and if the appendix bursts, a person might feel pain throughout the abdomen, not just in one area.

In addition, an individual experiencing serious problems with their appendix might feel nauseous and vomit and have fever, chills, diarrhea, constipation, or abdominal swelling.

Because of the potential dangers of a ruptured appendix, a person experiencing these or other concerning symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.

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