If you are a stroke survivor or know someone who has suffered a stroke, you are well aware of its lasting impact.

If you have not been impacted by a stroke, now is a great time to learn about it as May is National Stroke Awareness Month.

According to the American Heart/Stroke Association, approximately 795,000 strokes occur yearly in the United States. Every 40 seconds someone will have a stroke; and every 3 to 4 minutes someone will die from a stroke.

It is the No. 4 cause of death and the No. 1 cause of permanent disability, according to the association. In 2010, the estimated cost of stroke in the U.S. was $73.7 billion.

Strokes have a huge impact not only on those who suffer them but also their families.

A stroke, sometimes called a “brain attack,” is an assault on the brain.

This attack occurs when the blood flow that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain suddenly is stopped.

During a stroke, approximately 32,000 brain cells die every second. The disruption in the blood flow can occur either by a blockage or a rupture in a blood vessel.

About 85 percent are caused by the blockage and are referred to as ischemic, while 15 percent are caused by bleeding and are called hemorrhagic.

A transient ischemic attack, most often referred to as a TIA or “mini-stroke,” is an event where the flow of blood to the brain has been interrupted but has not caused permanent damage.

According to the National Stroke Association, more than one-third of all people who experience a TIA will go on to have an actual stroke.

The symptoms of a TIA are the same as a stroke, however they usually disappear. These symptoms should never be ignored.

Stroke survivors can be left with very minimal deficits that are hardly noticeable to very severe deficits. The deficits may include the inability to walk, talk or, worst of all, live independently.

An estimated 15 percent will die shortly after experiencing a stroke.

Strokes occur suddenly and without pain. Imagine that you are going about your normal daily activities when you suddenly experience one-sided weakness or numbness, blurred or double vision, confusion or trouble speaking, dizziness or trouble walking or severe headache. You may be having a stroke.

Many people experiencing strokes are unaware that anything is happening to them; therefore they need to depend on bystanders. These victims can have a chance for a better recovery if someone recognizes the symptoms and takes action fast.

Some ischemic strokes may be treated with a clot-busting drug, T-PA (tissue plasminogen activator).

However, for this medication to be most effective, it must be administered within three hours of symptom onset.

Since this is such a short window of time, it is essential that medical treatment is initiated quickly. It has been shown in studies that survivors who were treated with tPA were left with fewer deficits than those with similar strokes who did not receive treatment.

Also in some hospitals, such as Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, there may be interventional treatment options available for some strokes. These treatments also are time sensitive. That is why it is so important that stroke symptoms are rapidly recognized and action is taken to call 911 fast.

It is estimated that 80 percent of all strokes are preventable by people knowing and treating their risk factors.

There are risk factors that are non-modifiable. They include age, increased risk over 55; gender, men have higher risk; family history of stroke; race, African-Americans and Hispanics are at higher risk; and history of stroke.

Then there are those modifiable risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, high cholesterol, inactivity, poor diet, cigarette smoking, and alcohol abuse.

Knowing your risk factors and treating them can help prevent a stroke from changing your life. It is important that you identify your personal risk factors and discuss them with your doctor.

Stroke is a medical emergency and at the first sign of stroke action needs to be taken. So it is important to remember FAST:

Face: Does the face look uneven? Ask the person to smile.

Arm: Does one arm drift down? Ask him to raise both arms.

Speech: Does their speech sound strange? Ask them to repeat a phrase.

Time: Every second, brain cells die.

Call 911 at any sign of a stroke.

A nurse for more than 20 years at Advocate Christ Medical Center, Behrens is a stroke coordinator, working with the acute stroke patients and their families to help manage their hospital stay and provide education. She also works in the community to help educate people about strokes.