Nova Scotia·health hacks

'We may be wise to cut men some slack': Why the man flu isn't a myth

In this week's health hack, Mary Jane Hampton explains why it's time to cut the men in your life some slack.

Health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton says there's biological and societal reasons why men suffer more

Mary Jane Hampton points to studies that show more men are hospitalized and end up dying from the flu than women. (Shutterstock / otnaydur)

This is part of a series from CBC's Information Morning where Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton discusses her "health hacks" — ways to make your experience with the health-care system better.

A Nova Scotia health-care consultant says it's time to cut the men in your life some slack — there really is such a thing as the "man flu." 

While a woman might say she has a stuffy nose, a man would complain that "my entire head is going to explode," said Mary Jane Hampton.

Hampton says there's both cultural and biological evidence to support the existence of the man flu. 

"If they really say that they feel absolutely, incredibly terrible with the flu, they might need a little bit longer to recover and it may be quite legitimate that they really do feel that bad," Hampton told CBC's Information Morning. 

Hormone levels have an impact

Hampton said boys and men are often socialized to be stoic or to man up, and that has an impact on how they describe their symptoms. 

"We kind of train men to think that the only symptoms that it's legitimate to complain about are ones that are off-the-chart terrible," she said. 

Health consultant Mary Jane Hampton suggests cutting the men in your life some slack. (Robert Short/CBC)

That means men might only speak up when their symptoms get so bad they really do need to stay in bed all day, she said. 

But the evidence is more than just societal conditioning, Hampton added. In fact, an article published in the British Medical Journal in 2017 points to hormonal levels as the potential answer to why men report feeling worse when they get hit with a flu or cold. 

The doctor in charge of that study concluded that higher levels of testosterone can cause a virus to expand and grow more quickly in the body, leading to harsher symptoms.

Studies have shown that more men are hospitalized and end up dying from the flu than women, Hampton said. Men also report taking longer than woman to recover from a virus.

More research is still needed, said Hampton, adding it's time to take the "man flu" more seriously. 

So what should women do when a man complains that he's too sick to get out of bed? 

Hampton's advice is to first get a flu shot, then consider being a bit more understanding. 

"The evidence that we have in hand at least gives men the benefit of the doubt, that as family members and friends and employers, we may be wise to cut men some slack," she said. 


With files from CBC's Information Morning