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What Causes Hot Flashes, Anyway?
Date:4/12/2012

"There were transient decreases during the hot flash, but the good news is it does come back up," Thurston said.

The research is in the April issue of Menopause.

For something that's so common, experts say it's surprising how little is understood about hot flashes. What's known is that they can vary in severity, frequency and duration. Some women may get just a few hot flashes; others suffer from multiple hot flashes a day for years.

Hot flashes are also one of the most common complaints sending women to see their doctors, experts said. Hot flashes can impair quality of life, sleep and lead to feelings of depression, according to background information in the study. Still other studies have hinted that hot flashes are associated with ill health effects, including low bone density and heart disease.

Specifically, studies have found that women who experience hot flashes are more likely to have signs of early atherosclerosis (sometimes called hardening of the arteries), such as calcified plaques in the aorta of the heart, Thurston said.

But women don't have to simply suffer with them, said Dr. Margery Gass, executive director of the North American Menopause Society.

The most effective treatment for hot flashes is hormone therapy, typically estrogen and progestin, Gass said. However, because hormone therapy carries some risks -- including boosting the risk of certain cancers, including endometrial cancer -- women should only turn to hormones if they're really bothered by hot flashes, and then they should stay on hormones only as long as they need to, Gass said.

Another treatment option: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs -- a class of drugs commonly used to treat depression or anxiety. But the medications don't work as well as the hormones for most women, Thurston said.

Lifestyle changes can also help, Gass said. As people age, their "thermoneutral zone" -- the temperature at which they feel n
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