When a person suffers a stroke, time is of the essence for receiving care.

Or, as Dr. Edgar Kenton, director of Geisinger Medical Center’s Stroke Program, put it: “Time loss is brain loss.”

Brain cells die during a stroke and abilities controlled by the brain including speech, movement and memory are impaired.

Just how a person is affected depends on where in the brain the stroke occurs and how much damage occurs, according to the National Stroke Association.

Getting to the hospital in a timely fashion following onset of stroke can mean all the difference between suffering long-term disabilities or dying, Kenton said.

Some 2 million brain cells die every minute during a stroke, increasing the risk of permanent brain damage.

A stroke occurs when vital blood flow is cut off from the brain either by a clot blocking an artery or a blood vessel break.

Kenton noted that tPA, an FDA-approved drug since 1996, is an effective means of reestablishing blood flow to the brain by dissolving clots.

But the drug is most effective if administered to a stroke victim within three hours after onset of symptoms.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) revealed results from a five-year trial of carefully selected stroke patients who received tPA within three hours of the beginning of stroke symptoms. At least 33 percent of those patients were more likely than patients given a placebo to recover from their stroke with little or no disability after three months.

Kenton noted that he recently cared for three stroke patients who waited the day following onset of symptoms to get to the hospital, and that’s often too late.

“They need to call 911,” he said. “Don’t go to bed and think it will go away.”

The National Stroke Association reports that stroke is the fourth leading cause of death and the leading cause of disability in the U.S. claiming the life of one American every four minutes.

Warning signs of stroke include any one or combination of the following physical symptoms: facial drooping, arm drifting, slurred speech, according to Kenton.

Someone suffering a small stroke may experience only minor problems – weakness of an arm or leg. Those who have larger strokes may suffer paralysis on one side of the body or lose their ability to speak.

While people do completely recover from stroke, most survivors will have some type of disability.

Controlling one’s risk factors for stroke can go a long way toward preventing one.

The battle against stroke includes staying physically active, losing weight, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, reducing blood sugar, maintaining a healthy diet, and refraining from smoking.

“The older you get the more at risk you are,” Kenton said. “African-Americans and Hispanics are at greater risk.”

One’s chances of having a stroke increase after the age of 55.

“The best course of treatment for stroke is, of course, prevention,” Kenton said. “While Geisinger has excelled in treating strokes, during National Stroke Awareness Month, we encourage our neighbors to do what they can to keep a stroke from occurring by taking regular aspirin, controlling hypertension, maintaining a healthy diet and monitoring weight.”

Kenton said the good news is that the death rate for stroke has fallen in recent years.

He attributed it to better treatment methods for and increased awareness about stroke.

In addition, increasing numbers of people seem to be taking steps to control high blood pressure, which is one of the risk factors for stroke.