One minute you’re fine. The next minute you are drenched in sweat, feeling like you’ve just run a marathon at the Equator. All without warning. And at any time of the day or night.

Many women are told that hot flashes are temporary, and that a tincture of patience is the best cure. And in the meantime, avoid caffeine and alcohol, since both can make things worse. As can stress (good luck magically removing that from life.)

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Good advice — but not in the least bit complete.

A new study in JAMA Internal Medicine followed close to 1500 women and found that there’s a wide range in the definition of “temporary.”

Researchers say the median time a woman will have to deal with hot flashes is 7 years. Median means half suffer less; half suffer longer. And that medium calculated from 0 years to 14 years.

Fourteen years of feeling like you’re a human furnace is a long time. And doctors aren’t sure why some women have few flashes while others seem to have an eternity.

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One thing that stood out in the study was that the earlier the flashes started, the longer they tended to last. Meaning some women who were still having some menstrual periods and getting some flashes were most at risk for a long bout of fighting the sweats.

We don’t have a lot of answers for the treatment of hot flashes. Saying “deal with them” is just plain wrong. But we do know that a short course of estrogen may help ease the symptoms (yet keeping in mind the possible side effects of hormone replacement.)

Low doses of anti-depressants seem to help some women. Others benefit from blood pressure medicine, even if they have normal blood pressure.

As for natural measures, the grades are mixed for the use of the herb Black Cohosh.

Bottom line — hot flashes aren’t life threatening, but that doesn’t minimize the discomfort of feeling like you’ve just been microwaved. Help is available — be sure you bring this up with your doctor.

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Dr. Dave Hnida is CBS4’s Medical Editor. He blogs about the latest studies and trends in the health world. Read his latest blog entries, check out his bio or follow him on Twitter @drdavehnida