Kelly Clarkson truly is “Stronger” — she managed to host the Billboard Music Awards on Wednesday while suffering from appendicitis, and underwent surgery to remove her appendix just a few hours later.
The singer said she had “broken down in tears after the show from pain,” but is now saying “bye bye appendix” after her surgery.
Though most people don’t perform a live show with appendicitis, it is an extremely common condition, affecting 1 in 1,000 Americans each year, says Dr. Travis Stork, an ER physician, host of The Doctors and a member of PEOPLE’s Health Squad.
It typically happens when a blockage of the appendix leads to an infection.
“As bacteria grows, the appendix becomes inflamed and swollen,” Stork says. “Some symptoms to look out for include sharp pain on the right side of the lower abdomen and sudden pain that begins around your navel and then shifts to your lower right abdomen, that gets worse if you make sharp movements like coughing or walking. Also look out for nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, low-grade fever and abdominal bloating.”
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Head to the doctor if you think something is wrong, and they can determine if surgery is necessary.
“Surgical removal of the appendix is the traditional standard procedure because once it is infected the appendix may rupture, spreading infection throughout your abdominal cavity and becoming life-threatening,” Stork says.
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People can either have an appendectomy, an open surgery using a 2- to 4-inch incision, or a laparoscopic surgery with a small incision.
“In general, laparoscopic surgery allows you to recover faster and heal with less pain and scarring, but if your appendix has ruptured and infection has spread beyond the appendix or you have an abscess, you may need an open appendectomy and cleaning of the abdominal cavity,” he says.
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Luckily for Clarkson and the thousands of Americans who undergo the surgery, the appendix isn’t completely necessary.
“Some scientists believe the appendix is a vestigial organ, left over from our leaf-eating ancestors,” Stork says, though he adds, “unnecessary doesn’t mean it doesn’t play a role. Since it is part of the immune system, many think the appendix can stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.”
But once the appendix is gone, it will just take a couple weeks to recover, and then “most people have no long-term side effects or complications,” Stork says.
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