The ‘Man Flu’: A Severe Case or Severe Wimpiness?

Man with flu.
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When it comes to complaining about flu and other upper-respiratory infection symptoms, men might not be wimps after all.  Maybe.

A new study by researchers at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada found that “man flu” — a term often used by women who think that men complain more about their flu-like symptoms — might not be an exaggeration.

The study published in BMJ, formerly known as the British Medical Journal, showed some evidence that adult men have a higher risk of hospitalization and a higher rate of flu-related deaths compared to women in the same age groups. The study also showed that men are more susceptible to complications and have a higher mortality rate from other acute viral respiratory ailments.

“As a primary care doctor I’m not really taking specific note whether men or women are feeling more of an impact [from symptoms] unless there’s a real significant difference,” says Dr. David Wolpaw, a Hartford HealthCare Medical Group primary care provider based in Manchester. “And, I haven’t seen that. If there is a difference that can be scientifically proven, it’s very subtle.”

The study also suggests that men might be suffering from viral respiratory illnesses more because they have weaker immune systems.  And while the study doesn’t make reference to it, some women have even said that men simply have a lower tolerance for pain and discomfort than women.

“The problem with that line of thinking is that there’s really no objective way to measure pain,” says Wolpaw. “It wouldn’t surprise me that flu affects men to a greater extent than women because there are certainly diseases that affect men more like heart disease or women more like breast cancer.  What most people are saying when they talk about ‘man flu’ has to do with a subjective experience. A man might complain that he’s more tired or achier, but there’s really no objective way to measure who has more aches and more pain.”

One thing health experts do agree on: People should get their flu shots, especially seniors, children over six months and anyone with a compromised immune system or preexisting respiratory condition.

Wolpaw says that, while the flu shot might not be 100 percent effective, it’s a good line of defense.

“I liken it to wearing a seat belt. A seat belt isn’t going to protect you from every possible injury in a car crash.  But it does give you some measure of protection. It’s what you have so it’s worthwhile to take advantage of it,” he says.

If you have questions about the flu shot or want to know where you can get one, click here.



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