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Many women experience hot flashes during menopause, but hot flashes also can continue for several years after menopause is over. Changes in hormone levels and proteins released by osteoporosis are believed to be two causes of hot flashes after menopause. Stress, smoking and frequent alcohol consumption can worsen the symptoms.
Menopause usually occurs when the woman is between ages 45 and 55. During this time, hot flashes begin, estrogen and progesterone are produced less frequently, and menstruation slows down before stopping altogether. When a woman has not had a menstrual period for one year, she is considered to be in the post-menopause phase.
Hot flashes are defined as an intense and sudden feeling of warmth in the face and neck area or all over the body. Other symptoms can include nausea, anxiety, dizziness, a rapid heartbeat and headaches. Some women might feel a strange sense of foreboding before a hot flash strikes.
There really is no way to control when or where hot flashes might strike. Sometimes, they can cause a woman to wake up during the night in a heavy sweat, followed by cold shivering. These episodes can last from about 30 seconds to several minutes. The same mechanism that prevents the body from overheating is believed to cause hot flashes. For reasons not entirely known, a sudden drop in estrogen causes the body to think it is overheating.
In addition to hormonal changes, bone loss from osteoporosis also is believed to cause hot flashes. The proteins that can break down bones also are linked to the body's built-in temperature gauge. Similar to a change in hormones, this process can cause a false alarm that tells the body it needs to cool down.
Up to one-half of women continue to have hot flashes after menopause. The hot flashes can vary in duration and severity, and generally, their intensity will decrease over time.
Treatment for hot flashes can include hormone therapy or natural remedies. Hormone therapy is considered somewhat risky because it is linked to an increased risk for heart attacks, blood clots, strokes and breast cancer. Hormone therapy should always be done under the careful guidance of a medical professional.
Limiting tobacco and alcohol and practicing stress reduction can lessen the impact of hot flashes. Eating right, exercising and practicing rhythmic breathing can all help to reduce the sensations as well. Although these practices might not eliminate hot flashes after menopause, they can at least make the symptoms more manageable.