Having a gastrointestinal perforation—a hole somewhere along your gastrointestinal tract—probably isn't anyone's idea of a good time. Unfortunately, Matthew Perry had to endure that and spend three months in the hospital, he revealed on Twitter recently.
“Matthew Perry recently underwent surgery in a Los Angeles hospital to repair a gastrointestinal perforation,” a publicist confirmed to People last month. “He is grateful for the concern and asks for continued privacy as he heals.”
And on Friday, Perry gave an update on Twitter: “Three months in a hospital bed. Check,” he wrote in his first tweet in six months.
Although we obviously don't know the details of Perry's situation, we do know that a gastrointestinal perforation can be a seriously painful condition.
A gastrointestinal perforation is a hole that develops along the gastrointestinal tract, meaning it could be on your esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, or gallbladder, MedlinePlus explains. These holes can develop after having illnesses (like appendicitis), having an underlying gastrointestinal condition (such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis), or after having abdominal surgery or procedures (such as a colonoscopy).
And that can be incredibly dangerous. "When there is a hole in the intestine, people can get very sick because the bacteria and food that usually stays in your intestinal tract gets to places where it shouldn’t be,” Heather Yeo, M.D., a colon and rectal surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine, who was not involved in Perry's treatment, tells SELF.
If the contents of your intestinal tract leak into your abdomen, it could cause severe complications, such as infections, such as peritonitis (an inflammation of the membrane that lines the abdominal wall) or sepsis (a potentially life-threatening response to infection).
Treatment for this usually involves emergency surgery.
If you have a gastrointestinal perforation, you might develop sudden and severe abdominal pain and tenderness, nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite. “Someone will have a tense and rigid stomach with severe pain,” Anton Bilchik, M.D., Ph.D., professor of surgery and chief of gastrointestinal research at John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., who was not involved in Perry's treatment, tells SELF. “It’s usually not subtle.”
In some rare cases, you may not need surgery and can just be treated with antibiotics. But most of the time, emergency surgery is necessary to remove and repair a small part of the intestine, Dr. Bilchik says. And, if an abscess has formed, it may need to be drained.
The type of recovery you can expect depends on the cause of your perforation, the surgery you needed, and whether or not you developed an infection, Dr. Bilchik says.
For instance, if you got a perforation during a colonoscopy, your doctor spotted it quickly, and operated immediately, you’ll probably just be in the hospital for a few days, he says. But if it wasn’t spotted quickly, you didn’t seek care for a few days, and developed peritonitis or sepsis, you’re going to be hospitalized for much longer. “That’s the kind of person that may well be in the hospital for months,” Dr. Bilchik says.
Even after you have surgery, infection is a common complication and it can happen either inside your abdomen or throughout your whole body, the Mayo Clinic says. “A lot of it depends on how much bacteria or infection is in the abdomen,” Dr. Yeo adds. “Sometimes patients can have a prolonged stay.”
But that's not always the case. “Most of the time, people are in the hospital for about a week," Dr. Yeo says, but it may take a month or two to "feel back to themselves again.”