Man Flu: A Man's Illness?

Imagine for a moment that a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, hardened by four overseas deployments, has endured broken limbs and other serious injuries.

Yet, at the first sign of a cold, this trained soldier collapses into a pathetic and helpless pile.

Such a situation is nothing new for Leanne, who preferred that her last name not be disclosed. She said she is fascinated by how, at the first sign of a cold, her husband, Ed, can turn from warrior to what she calls "wimp."

"My husband's been to war four times, and a simple head cold takes him down for the count," she said.

She says many women agree that what is regarded as a common cold for women is no simple ailment to men. In fact, it even has its own name: "man-flu."

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An expression popularly coined in Britain, man-flu is a tongue-in-cheek term used to describe any man's experience of getting the common cold.

The phrase, which is gaining popularity among American women, highlights the irony that a man with perhaps the same level of cold symptoms as a woman, will dramatize his sniffles as if they were a far more serious ailment.

"The man-flu is best described as a hangover that's supposed to make you feel bad for him," Leanne said.

Another hallmark of the man-flu is its propensity to bring forth a double standard when it comes to sickness between the sexes. While a man with the flu may regard it as his right to camp out in front of the television and sleep for days -- perhaps even skipping showers and the toothbrush -- women may be expected to soldier through the flu, carrying out their daily routines.

Worse, any favors asked of a victim of man-flu likely evokes a perfectly rehearsed sequence of grotesque moans, followed by a dramatic series of short coughs and then a reminder that he has come down with an ailment that has never been seen.

But while some women may claim to be able to call their husbands' bluffs, some experts say there may be a bit of truth to the man-flu theory.

Do Men With Colds Feel Worse?

Dr. Charles Raison, clinical director of the Mind/Body Program at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, said that while features used to describe man-flu are at times exaggerated, men may indeed experience some physical effects of illness differently than women.

"There's a lot of evidence to suggest that women are more [emotionally] sensitive than men," said Raison. "But what's interesting is that we see men at one of their most vulnerable moments when sick."

He added that there is no hard evidence that proves a difference between how men and women experience colds. But according to Raison, studies have shown that while women are more likely to experience depression under emotional stress, men are most vulnerable when they are sick.

"There is stronger association between sickness systems in the body and depression in men than women," said Raison. "This may support why men have a rougher time than women."

Getting Even With the Man

There may also be a social basis for the idea of man-flu. Armond Aserinsky, a clinical psychologist who has spent more than a decade focusing on exploring the psychology of partners in marriage, said that however amusing it may be to ridicule a man, man-flu can also be seen as an intentional tactic of dethroning the stereotypical idea of a man.

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