“Man Flu” is Real: Men May Indeed Experience Worse Cold and Flu Symptoms Than Women

Fagjun | Published 2017-12-14 04:56

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a man flu is a “cold or minor ailment” whose severity has been exaggerated by the man experiencing it. However, a Canadian doctor now says that there’s nothing exaggerated when it comes to the man flu.

Are men just being dramatic when they're sick?

Are men just being dramatic when they're sick?



“It’s not a cold—it’s the flu!” So goes the battle cry of men everywhere whose symptoms aren’t being taken seriously by the people around them (mostly women). There are those who say that men are simply whinier than women, and tend to act sicker than they should be, given their actual illness. After all, a cold shouldn’t be enough to take you out of commission for an entire day or so, but the flu certainly should.


So are men somehow just less able than women to withstand the symptoms of otherwise minor ailments? The term “man flu” has often been used with ridicule, accompanied by a roll of the eyes or perhaps a pair of pursed lips. Dr. Kyle Sue, however, wants to lay that ridicule to rest.

A Weaker Immune Response


Are men immunologically inferior?

Are men immunologically inferior?



Sue is a clinical assistant professor in family medicine at Memorial University of Newfoundland, and he’s serving as the only community doctor in Arviat, Nunavut. He himself has been accused of faking and exaggerating his flu symptoms before, and, like many other men, he’s probably sick of not being taken seriously. Thus, he decided to look into whether or not “man flu” is indeed imagined, or is actually a real thing.


As a result, Sue wrote a review of the available research on the matter, which was then published in the usually wry British Medical Journal. “I do think that the research does point towards men having a weaker immune response when it comes to common viral respiratory infections and the flu,” Sue said. “This is shown in the fact that they [have] worse symptoms, they last longer, they are more likely to be hospitalised and more likely to die from it.”


Most of the research included in the review involved mice, and several of the studies showed that female mice tended to have a stronger immune system than the males. Women have also been found to have a better response to vaccines than men. There’s also evidence that testosterone acts like an immunosuppressant, while estrogen has the opposite effect.


However, even Sue admits that the evidence for the claim that man flu is real is limited. One particular issue is that most of the relevant research involved mice. Thus, there’s a need for more—and better—studies

The Reality of Man Flu

Maybe doctors should start taking reported symptoms seriously. [Photo by iStockPhoto]

Maybe doctors should start taking reported symptoms seriously. [Photo by iStockPhoto]



Sue points out that half of the world’s population is comprised of men. If “man flu” is experienced by all men, it seems unlikely that all men around the world are exaggerating. Also, concluding right off that medical symptoms are exaggerated may result in someone being denied adequate or appropriate care. And it’s not just men that experience this. There have also been doctors that have taken women’s complaints of pain less seriously than those of men.


Even with the review, many other medical experts aren’t convinced of the reality of man flu. There are a lot of factors other than sex that can affect the severity of flu symptoms—factors like smoking, which more men than women do. Thus, a more in-depth look into man flu is indeed warranted.

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