Have you ever looked at your fingernails or toenails and wondered, “What are these things for, anyway?” It’s a fair question. Nails are evolutionary holdovers from a time when we needed stronger grips and sharper claws to survive.
Today, it might seem like our nails are only good for decorating. Sure, we can use our nails to scratch an itch or peel open a piece of fruit, but we have tools for those things, too.
As it turns out, however, our nails do more for us than we might think. Not only do our nails protect the ends of our toes and fingers when going about our business, but they can also tell us about our overall health, such as the presence of a disease. This might come as a surprise to many, but doctors regularly inspect the state of a patient’s fingernails to discover deeper insights.
Let’s discuss what different nail abnormalities might say about your health.
If you don’t know what healthy nails should look like, you might not notice if something is wrong. Healthy nails are firm, smooth, consistent in color throughout, and grow evenly at a rate of approximately one millimeter each day. Of course, even those with healthy nails will experience some minor irregularities in these factors now and again, and injury can lead to nail deformities, too.
Certain nail problems are limited to the nails themselves, unrelated to a deeper illness. That said, issues in the heart, lungs, liver, and more can reveal themselves through your nails. Below are a handful of common nail problems that may point to a more serious health concern.
Fingernail discoloration comes in many forms, such as yellow, blue, and purple. Different colors can indicate different health problems. For instance, pale nails may suggest poor nutrition, anemia, heart failure, and even liver disease. Blue and purple nails are often related to poor circulation and low oxygen levels, possibly from a heart or lung illness. And yellow nails are often the result of nail fungus, though in some instances yellow nails might indicate psoriasis, lung or thyroid disease, or diabetes.
You may encounter various lines in your fingernails, especially due to injury. However, if no injury has occurred, you may have a bigger problem. For instance, dark vertical lines underneath your nails may indicate melanoma (skin cancer). Muehrcke’s lines refer to parallel, horizontal white lines and suggest a protein deficiency.
When your nails lose their smooth feel and become pitted, bumpy, rippled, or ridged, you may be facing early signs of arthritis or psoriasis. Furthermore, vertical ridges in nails may be related to anemia, and horizontal ridges (also known as Beau’s lines) may also occur in the presence of kidney disease, mumps, thyroid disease, diabetes, or syphilis.
Healthy nails hold firm, only breaking under extreme stress. So, if your nails easily crack, split, or peel, you may have an underlying health condition. Dehydration, lung disease, iron deficiency, and/or problems with your kidneys or thyroid might all contribute to peeling nails.
Indented or “spoon-shaped” nails (also known as Koilonychia) may point to heart disease, hemochromatosis, iron deficiency anemia, hypothyroidism, lupus erythematosus, or Raynaud’s disease. And clubbed (overly rounded) nails may be a symptom of cardiovascular disease, pulmonary illness, liver problems, or AIDS.
The next time you look at your fingernails and toenails, take note of anything out of the ordinary. These seemingly unimportant bodily features are in fact key players in helping us take care of ourselves.
Of course, our nails don’t fill us in on everything, and sometimes their warning signs can be misleading. That’s why it’s important to have medical professionals examine your nails in greater detail, and run additional tests that indicate other health issues.
Southeast Dermatology Specialists are here to help you understand your nail health and how this relates to your overall wellness. Contact us to ask us questions and learn more about our services and providers.