The Relationship Between Fingernails And Your Health

By Ashley Henshaw. May 7th 2016

Some of the best health tips can come in the most unexpected places. For example, did you know that your fingernails can actually tell you a lot about your current state of health? While they aren't a surefire way to diagnose certain conditions, they can be a very good indicator of your health in many cases. Below we explain what healthy nails should look like and what any differences in their appearance might be saying about your health.

What Healthy Nails Look Like

Before you learn what signs to watch out for with your nails, it's important to know what healthy nails look like in order to give yourself a reference point. Healthy nails are, first and foremost, strong; they should not feel brittle or thin or break easily. Ideally, they will also be pretty smooth, exhibiting no jagged edges, dents or bumps. That smoothness should extend to the cuticles as well, which should not be cut, peeling or jagged. Finally, color is also critical to healthy nails. Any discoloration, whether it's streaks, spots or yellowing, may be cause for concern.

What To Look for In Your Fingernails

Here are some of the key things to watch out for when you examine your nails:

  • Yellowing: If your nails have a yellowy discoloration on them, it may be a sign that you are suffering from a respiratory condition. Chronic bronchitis and other respiratory problems may slow down the growth of your nails, which causes them to thicken and become yellow in color. In some cases, the nails may even detach from the nail bed in certain areas. Yellow nails can also be caused by other conditions, such as swollen hands, but it's important to figure out the cause regardless of whether it is respiratory in nature.
  • Brittleness: When nails become thin and brittle, allowing them to break easily, it may be a sign that the nails can't hold onto moisture. This is often a side effect of an under-active thyroid, which often causes dry skin and nails, or an iron deficiency. However, if your hands are exposed to water for long periods of time every day, the constant wetting and drying of your nails may also cause this condition.
  • Loose nails: This condition involves nails that become loose from the finger and may separate from the nail bed. When nails look as though they are becoming detached in this way, it may be a sign of infection, reaction to a drug, psoriasis or thyroid disease.
  • Clubbing: This term is used to describe a condition where the tips of the fingers enlarge and the nails grow around the fingertips. The result is a nail that looks too big for the finger on which it is found. Clubbing can be a sign that an individual does not have enough oxygen in their blood, which could indicate that they have lung disease. However, clubbing has also been associated with other conditions, such as liver disease, cardiovascular disease and inflammatory bowel disease.
  • White spots: For the most part, the tiny white spots that appear on your nails are just a result of an injury to the nail and are not a serious problem. However, if you notice white spots appearing in areas where you know that no trauma to the nail occurred, it could be a sign of psoriasis, eczema or a zinc deficiency.
  • Dark tips: This condition, which is also known as Terry's nails, is indicated by opaque nails which exhibit a dark band towards the tip. While this may occur naturally due to aging, it could also be a sign of diabetes, malnutrition, congestive heart failure or liver disease.
  • Dark lines: If you see dark lines appearing under your nails, see a dermatologist right away. This could be an indicator of melanoma, which is the most dangerous type of skin cancer.
  • Horizontal indentations: When horizontal indentations form across the nail (also known as "Beau's lines"), it can be a sign that severe illness has interrupted nail growth. Some of the conditions associated with these horizontal indentations include diabetes, circulatory diseases and malnutrition. It may also occur with illnesses that involve a high fever, such as pneumonia, scarlet fever, mumps or measles.
  • Depressions: Small dents or depressions in the nails, also known as "nail pitting," is often associated with skin conditions such as psoriasis or chronic dermatitis. In some cases, it may also be associated with alopecia areata, which is an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss. Pitting can also result from an injury to the nail itself.
  • Spooning: Spooning occurs when the outer edges of the nail begin to curl up towards the top of the finger. In some cases, the spoon-like scoop formed by the curled nail may even be able to hold a drop of liquid. Spooning can be a sign of an iron deficiency.

Though the changes may seem minor, something as simple as a streak of color or peeling of your nails can signal more serious health conditions.


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