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Hot flashes-women dread them and men fear them. They’re often the first symptom of the long journey through menopause.

While the actual cause of hot flashes is still debated, we do know that blood vessels near the skin’s surface dilate to cool the body. When this occurs, women often appear flushed or red in the face. A woman also may perspire to cool down the body, and some experience rapid heart rates, chills and night sweats.

The first question is typically how long hot flashes will last, but the answer is rarely well received. While some women will only experience hot flashes for a short period of time, others may have them for the rest of their lives. The good news is that hot flashes generally become less severe over time.

While eliminating hot flashes altogether is impossible, doctors recommend avoiding triggers that can bring them on more frequently or increase the intensity. The most common triggers include stress, caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, tight clothing, heat and cigarette smoke.

To stay cool, wear layers of clothing so it’s easy to peel layers off and put them back on again-something that’s likely to happen multiple times a day. Also keep the bedroom cool at night by adding a fan on your side of the bed. Daily exercise also is reported to help manage symptoms.

If hot flashes start interfering with your daily life, talk to your doctor about treatment options. The most common one is short-term hormone replacement therapy, but be sure you and your doctor agree that the benefits outweigh any potential risks.

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