Q. Our twins, boys and a girl, seem to have a different level of health. When they catch a cold, my son acts a lot sicker than my daughter. Matter of fact, so does my husband. I tell them to stop using a cold or the flu to get attention!

A. For decades—maybe longer—males have been accused of pretending to be sicker than they really are when they catch a cold or the flu “to get attention” or “to get waited on.” I’m not saying males have never been guilty of such sneaky tactics, but studies have shown that males really do suffer more when they become infected with viruses. There are at least a couple of contributors to this difference.

  1. Amanda Ellison, a British neuroscientist, discovered that the preoptic nucleus (an area in the brain that has to do with sensing temperature) is larger in the brains of males than in females. As the body’s temperature rises, males feel the symptoms of a fever more intensely because this part of the brain has more temperature receptors.
  2. Male muscles are less well equipped to deal with changes in hormonal levels and water retention as compared with a comparable female. In addition, about 40 percent of the male body is muscle tissue, much more than the average female body possesses. Consequently, a male will tend to experience far more muscle aches and pains with a cold or flu.

Knowing these two gender differences may help you be more empathetic when a male in your family gets sick. They really do suffer more than you do with a comparable illness.