How Percy Harvin struggles with chronic migraines

by Diana E. Lee

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin has been struggling with chronic migraines.

If you don’t follow football you may not have heard of him. But let me assure you he is a high profile player in the National Football League and an important component of the Minnesota Vikings’ offense. Harvin has dealt with migraines since childhood (like me), but almost no one knew about them until last season when they started taking him away from his job playing for his team. Fortunately things are finally looking up for him.

He wound up in the hospital recently ago after collapsing with what has been described as an especially awful migraine attack during practice. He was released from the hospital the next day. He came to practice that same day in street clothes, but did not accompany the team to their preseason game in San Francisco. He practiced in full gear at the public portion of the Vikings practice, but reports said he mostly stood on the sideline. Vikings coach Brad Childress told the media Harvin would not participate in practices or games until his doctors had completed their testing.

Kevin Seifert wrote an excellent article on about how the migraines have affected Harvin and describing all the ways he has sought treatment, making it clear he tried hard to get better. I was very impressed with Seifert’s research because it seems as though many people assume those of us with chronic migraines just haven’t tried hard enough to get better. This is not the case with Harvin just as it is not the case with the rest of us. You can read Seifert’s article here: Migraines Now Affecting Harvin’s Career.

Nancy Harris Bonk wrote a great article about Harvin’s situation with his chronic migraines at My Migraine Connection: Percy Harvin: Famous Migraineur. It’s another great read. Her article goes back to his childhood and describes his journey to the NFL, as well as his experiences with migraine disease.

He was recently able to play in the Vikings’ preseason game against Seattle. After the game Harvin said his doctors found what they believe to be the primary cause of his migraine attacks during testing the day before. Harvin is optimistic he will not experience attacks with the same frequency. I hope he is right.

No one knows for sure what his career will look like from now on. Knowing how hard it has been to have my career taken away by chronic migraines, I feel for him. I hope the notoriety of a high profile chronic migraine sufferer will help increase understanding of the burden of this disease, but no one should have to live like this.

Good luck, Percy. All of your fellow migraineurs are out here pulling for you.

Diana E. Lee is a chronic migraine patient who blogs at Somebody Heal Me.

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  • Steven Park, MD


    One thing you didn’t mention is the fact that Percy Harvin was eventually diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, and after treatment, his migraines went away. It’s not surprising since many NFL players have obstructive sleep apnea. It’s important to point out that you don’t have to be overweight or even snore to have significant obstructive sleep apnea.

    Essentially every patient that I see that has a migraine history has narrowing of the space behind the tongue, and smaller jaw structures. The tongue then takes up relatively too much space and then obstructs your breathing during deep sleep due to muscle relaxation. This is why most people who suffer from migraines can’t sleep on their backs.
    You can also have migraines in your sinuses (giving you pain, pressure, nasal congestion, post-nasal drip), or even in your ears (giving you fullness, dizziness, ringing, and even hearing loss).

    It’s also important to note that you can have a severe sleep-breathing problem, but not have sleep apnea.

  • Tonna Canfield

    Actually, Percy Harvin’s migraines didn’t “go away”, but he is having them less frequently now that the sleep apnea is being dealt with.

  • Steven Park, MD


    Thanks for pointing out my error. You’re absolutely right. What I wanted to emphasize is the fact that most migraine sufferers have a significant degree of upper airway narrowing that prevents deep sleep continuity. This can be either due to smaller jaw structures that compromises upper airway patency, or from adding excessive fat or muscle bulk that narrows a relatively normal upper airway.

    Inefficient sleep can cause a generalized physiologic stress response, which makes people more prone to headaches, TMJ, anxiety, cold hands, and various gastrointestinal problems. I also find that most migraine sufferers prefer to avoid sleeping on their backs, most likely due to the fact that the tongue takes up relatively too much space within smaller jaw structures, leading to more frequent obstructions and arousals when in deep sleep. Due to gravity, the tongue can fall back more when on our backs, and during deep sleep, all our muscles relax.

    In my practice, treating obstructive sleep apnea definitively can significantly help improve or resolve most headaches. Even if you don’t officially have obstructive sleep apnea, you can still stop breathing multiple times per hour and have unrefreshing sleep.

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