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Man Flu: Is Job Stress to Blame?

Men Suffering Job Stress Are Far More Likely to Miss Work for Sniffles, Coughs, Study Finds

By Peter Russell
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Sheena Meredith, MD

Jan. 19, 2011 -- Men who are tired of being the butt of women's jokes about "man flu" can now wave a piece of research from their sick beds that suggests the condition does exist.

A study has shown that men who are under pressure at work are more likely to complain of sore throats, coughs, and sniffles than women, who tended to press through their symptoms.

Man flu has developed into a common expression to describe a condition where men appear to suffer more exaggerated symptoms from a cold than do women.

Man Flu and Stress

Researchers in South Korea studied 1,241 workers from 40 different companies and found that men who were under stress because of a demanding job were 74% more likely to take time off with a cold than those under less pressure.

They also found that men who lacked control over their job were 42% more likely to take time off, while men with a lack of social support were 40% more likely to call in sick.

Women More 'Stoical'

The researchers said they could find no such association between cold symptoms and taking time off among women. They write, "Any association between work-related stress and the common cold may be accentuated in males by their reaction to experiencing a cold and attenuated in females by their more stoical response."

However, they acknowledge that the results may be partly explained by the role of South Korean men as primary wage earners who tend to hold more stressful positions.

The study appears in the journal Occupational Medicine.

Immune System

Commenting on their findings, Olivia Carlton, MD, president of the Society of Occupational Medicine, says in a statement: "Stress of any kind, including work-related stress, may affect your immune system and be a potential risk factor for the common cold and other illnesses."

Carlton says that although further studies are needed, "The real issue here is that managers in the workplace need to understand how to identify employees who are experiencing stress and help those who are affected.

"We need to remove the stigma associated with psychological health conditions -- they are common and can happen to anyone at anytime in their life. There are solutions and it's important that staff feel able to seek support."

SOURCES: Park, S.-G. Occupational Medicine, 2011; vol 61: pp 53-56.News release, The Society of Occupational Medicine.

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