Concussion Care

staff checking out a student with a possible concussion

Comprehensive concussion evaluations are available for all eligible Northwestern University students. Evaluations include a thorough history, cognitive and physical assessment, follow-up appointments, and additional resources/referrals as needed.

  • If you sustain a head injury please call the Health Service @ 847.491.2204 during regular business hours for a same-day appointment (if you get voicemail, leave your name and student ID and a patient representative will call you back)
  • If you sustain a head injury outside of regular business hours and would like to speak to the After Hours Nurse Call Line regarding your symptoms, please call  847.491.8100 (press 1).

Concussion FAQs

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a brain injury; it is typically caused by forceful blows to the head and/or body that result in rapid movement of the head. Concussions can occur in sports, vehicle/bike accidents, and other life incidents. Concussions can range from mild to severe and present themselves differently for every person.  There are a myriad of symptoms that can accompany a concussion, including physical, cognitive, and behavioral changes. A concussion disturbs brain activity and should be handled as a serious injury. Proper healing and recovery time following a concussion are crucial in returning to everyday life.

What are the symptoms of a concussion?

A concussion may cause multiple symptoms. Many symptoms appear immediately after the injury, while others can develop over the following days or weeks. The symptoms may be subtle and are often difficult to fully recognize. It is not unusual for symptoms to worsen with physical activity. In many cases, simple things such as going to school or reading a book may worsen symptoms.

Some common symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Easily confused
  • Slowed thought processes
  • Difficulty with memory
  • Nausea
  • Lack of energy, fatigue
  • Dizziness, poor balance, lightheadedness
  • Blurred vision
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Poor sleep
  • Mood changes (irritable, anxious, or sad)

How long will my symptoms last?

The symptoms of a concussion will usually go away within 7-10 days of the initial injury. In some cases, symptoms may last for several weeks or even months. Symptoms such as headaches, memory problems, poor concentration, and mood changes can interfere with school, work, and social interactions. The potential for such long-term symptoms indicates the need for careful management of all concussions.

What should I do if I sustain a head injury or think I have a concussion?

If you think you have a concussion or have sustained a head injury, you should call the Health Service as soon as possible to schedule an appointment. At your appointment, you will receive a comprehensive cognitive and physical assessment.  Additional follow-up, referrals, and resources will be designated at your initial appointment.

Seek immediate medical attention if you have any of the following:

  • persistent vomiting
  • increasingly severe headaches
  • loss of muscle strength or feeling
  • worsening confusion
  • extreme drowsiness
  • unequal pupils
  • convulsions

How do I care for my concussion?

Cognitive Rest:

  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Limit texting, computer time, television to only what is necessary
  • Work on school assignments as tolerated
  • Go to class/lab if okayed by physician and does not cause increase in symptoms
    • Notify your professors of your concussion and need for brain rest

Physical Rest:

  • No physical activity while you still have symptoms
    •  Including: sports (contact & non-contact), running, swimming, biking, elliptical, rehearsals, yoga, etc
  • Keep a light diet until nausea resolves
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol

Medication:

  • You may take acetaminophen (Tylenol) for headache if needed (maximum 3,000mg per day)
  • Only take other medications as prescribed or recommended by your physician

Should I go to class if I have a concussion?

Follow the instructions of your physician for going to class. If class increases the severity of your symptoms, you should not attend.  At your initial evaluation, you can fill out a release of information to inform the Dean of your school about your academic modifications.

If you need to do homework or reading, work in 15 minute time frames then take a break.  If symptoms worsen, avoid all homework and reading.

Can I workout or play sports when I have a concussion?

NO. You cannot do ANY physical activity until cleared to do so by your physician. This includes physically intense rehearsals. 

When you are medically cleared to return to physical activity, your physician will give you a progression for safe return.