By Oanhie Pham, Staff Writer and Copy Editor

What is stroke? What are the signs? Not everyone knows the answers. To raise public awareness about this “brain attack,” the month of May has been designated as National Stroke Awareness Month since May 11, 1989.

In the United States, stroke kills 137,000 people each year, making it the third leading cause of death in the country. However, up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable, states the National Stroke Association. Stroke occurs when there isn’t enough blood or oxygen going to the brain due to a clot that is blocking the blood supply or when a blood vessel in or around the brain bursts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Millions of brain cells die during stroke, which can lead to brain damage, disability or death.

More than 80 percent of all strokes are ischemic, which is a type of stroke that occurs when a blood clot blocks the arteries or when there is a build-up of plaque and other fatty deposits, according to the National Stroke Association. Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when there is a leakage of blood in the brain because of broken blood vessels.

Strokes can cause one to have weakness or paralysis to one side of the body, mental or emotional problems, pain or depression. Strokes can happen to anyone, especially  those having diabetes and a family history of stroke.

You can lower your risk for stroke by adopting a healthy lifestyle. The Mayo Clinic suggests controlling your blood pressure, diabetes, stress and the amount of cholesterol and saturated fat you consume. Avoiding or limiting smoking and excessive drinking can also lower your risk. And, of course, follow guidelines set by your doctor to help you prevent stroke in the first place, or lower your chances of having another one.

If someone appears to be having symptoms of stroke, the National Stroke Association advises you to act FAST:

FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?

TIME: If you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately.

For more information, please visit www.stroke.org

Picture credit: http://www.stroke.org/site/PageServer?pagename=awareness