Late-night host Stephen Colbert is seen waving.Share on Pinterest
“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” returned this week after the host recovered from surgery for a ruptured appendix. Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images
  • Stephen Colbert returned to “The Late Show” on Monday three weeks after his appendix ruptured just before Thanksgiving.
  • The host detailed his hospitalization and recovery from surgery, noting he lost 14 pounds due to blood poisoning.
  • Ruptured appendix is a complication of appendicitis requiring immediate medical attention.
  • Appendicitis is common and may lead to serious complications if left untreated.

“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” returned on Monday night after three weeks while the host recovered from surgery for a ruptured appendix. His last show aired on November 22nd before the Thanksgiving break.

“It is so lovely to see all of you,” Colbert said during the show’s opening. “The last time I was sitting at this desk, which was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I was in a heap of trouble. I was not aware of the amount of trouble I was in.”

Colbert recounted the events leading up to the hospitalization and surgery. His symptoms started as he was filming an interview with David Letterman. “I got home and was not feeling great. I thought I might have caught something from Dave’s beard,” Colbert joked.

He said he woke up the next morning in pain but still did the show that night. He wasn’t aware something was wrong with his appendix despite that his abdominal pain worsened as the day went on.

“The pain just got off the charts by the time I made it to stage that night,” Colbert said, noting that he’d already missed five months’ worth of shows due to the SAG-AFTRA strike and previously a week’s worth of shows while he was recovering from COVID-19.

“The pain was manageable — it only hurt when I moved… and when I didn’t,” Colbert said. By the time he finished taping the show, he said he had a “raging fever” and was “shaking like a Polaroid picture,” and was eventually taken to the hospital where it determined he had a ruptured appendix and needed immediate surgery.

“I’d like to thank my appendix because you gave me blood poisoning, and I lost 14 pounds. Ladies and gentlemen, you heard it here first, appendicitis is the new Ozempic,” Colbert joked.

“The Late Show” was initially canceled for one week while Colbert recovered from surgery for a ruptured appendix. The comedian shared the news on the social media platform Threads with his followers on November 27.

“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,” Colbert wrote.

Then, on December 4, another week’s worth of “The Late Show” episodes were canceled as he continued his recovery.

Colbert’s ruptured appendix likely began as appendicitis, an inflammation of the appendix.

Dr. Tracey Childs, board certified in general and colorectal surgery and chief of surgery at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, explained that Colbert had appendicitis that progressed and then perforated.

“Ruptured doesn’t mean that it exploded,” she told Healthline. “It means that the wall of the appendix, in the process of being infected, became a little gangrenous.”

Childs described the process of appendicitis as a collection of fluid, like an abscess or an inflammatory mass.

When appendicitis becomes ruptured or perforated, it requires immediate medical attention.

“It doesn’t go from zero to perforated in no time,” Childs said, noting that a ruptured appendix takes some time to develop.

“[But] if diagnosis is delayed, you can develop gangrenous appendicitis,” she said, which may lead to more serious complications.

In the United States, the standard of care for acute appendicitis is surgery to remove the appendix.

However, some research has shown that antibiotics may be just as effective as surgery in treating appendicitis, but results may vary based on an individual’s health circumstances. In most cases, antibiotics should not be considered an alternative to an appendectomy.

“Most people choose surgery and then go home and live their lives,” Childs said.

“Sometimes what will happen is if you have a big inflammatory mass, you perforate, and then the body recruits the tissues around it to kind of wall off the perforation,” she explained.

“They will often treat that with antibiotics for 5–7 days, let everything cool down, and then do an interval appendectomy [removal of the appendix],” she added.

Appendicitis severity falls on a spectrum, ranging from uncomplicated to complicated.

For instance, a patient may have a micro-perforation or a larger perforation with an abscess or inflammatory mass.

According to Childs, during early unruptured or uncomplicated appendicitis, patients are typically discharged within hours after surgery and free to return to their normal routines and work.

But in complicated appendicitis, a patient may be in the hospital for a day or two or more, may require IV antibiotics, and may need to have infected fluid drained. These people often present with more serious symptoms and may require a longer recovery of two weeks or more.

“The sicker you are before surgery, the longer your recovery after surgery,” Childs noted.

Appendicitis is a medical emergency requiring immediate attention and may progress to perforated or ruptured appendicitis.

The sooner you’re able to get treatment, the greater your odds are of preventing a rupture.

Symptoms of appendicitis include:

  • abdominal pain
  • lack of appetite
  • vomiting
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • fever

If you’re experiencing these symptoms, you should go to the emergency room immediately. You will likely receive a CT scan to help medical professionals determine whether you have appendicitis.

“Appendicitis is slightly more common among males than females. It happens more often in people in their teens and 20s, but it may happen in people of any age, including older adults,” according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Since appendicitis requires medical attention, it becomes very serious when left untreated.

Treating the appendicitis with a minimally invasive appendectomy helps prevent the progression of ruptured appendicitis.

Childs described untreated perforated appendicitis as a “smoldering localized infection,” a blockage in the form of a localized abscess or inflamed mass.

“If left untreated, you can develop gangrenous appendicitis and then perforation and either localized or generalized peritonitis,” she said.

In these rare, severe cases, peritonitis — inflammation of the peritoneum (the thin layer of tissue that surrounds the inside of the abdomen and most of its organs — may result in sepsis and death.

“When you seek access to care early in the course, then you have choices. If you don’t, then you get sick, and don’t have choices,” Childs said.

The appendix is a small pouch of intestinal tissue shaped like a finger located between the small and large intestines.

Appendicitis is common, but its causes are not fully understood.

Childs said that appendicitis has nothing to do with diet, lack of exercise, or genetics. Appendicitis can affect anyone, regardless of age, sex, or racial or ethnic background.

What causes appendicitis is as much a mystery as why we have this little finger-shaped organ, to begin with.

“We don’t know what the function of the appendix is,” Childs said.

“It’s like, you’re living, and something gets stuck in it. And it swells up, cuts off its own blood supply, becomes infected, and then can progress to gangrenous change and perforation, which is seepage of infected contents and then development of abscess or inflammatory mass or even generalized peritonitis. So that’s how it works. It’s a mechanical problem,” she said.

“It’s just bad luck.”

“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” returned on Monday after a three-week break as the host recovered from surgery for a ruptured appendix.

Experts say a ruptured or perforated appendix is a complication of untreated appendicitis, a common and serious medical condition.

In most cases, surgery is recommended to treat appendicitis. In some cases, antibiotics may be sufficient.

If you have any symptoms resembling appendicitis, you should seek medical care immediately.