As a dermatologist, I look at conditions of the skin – your body’s largest organ – and determine what disease process may be the cause. Your nails are also an outgrowth of your skin and may be the first place to show signs of illness in the rest of you before your doctor is aware of it. Here’s what to look for. . .
What Your Nails Can Tell You About Your Health
Your nails are made of the same material that your skin (and hair) are – a protein called keratin. The following nail conditions can be the first warning signs of nutritional deficiencies and/or problems in your general health. They include:
1. Pale nails: This can indicate malnutrition, anemia, heart/extremity circulation issues, liver disease, or congestive heart failure. Clearing up any deficiencies in the B vitamins and iron may help resolve this problem. If not, a medical look at possible deeper issues may be necessary.
2. White nails: Mostly white nails where almost the entire nail is white with a dark rim line near the top of the nail can be a marker for hepatitis (inflammation of the liver). If you have this nail condition, it would help to have liver function blood studies done to determine hepatitis. Yet, there are other conditions that can also cause a white nail like this, such as constant bare-hand contact with certain chemicals.
3. Yellow nails: Your nails are like your skin and the whites of your eyes. They can take on a jaundiced hue when the liver is damaged. The most common cause of yellow nails, though, is a fungal infection of the nails, and/or surrounding skin. Yellow nails can also indicate thyroid disease, diabetes, lung disease or psoriasis.
4. Blue nails: This condition almost always means lack of oxygen through inadequate circulation to your extremities. Lung infections like pneumonia, or severe bronchitis, can cause bluish nails. In addition, certain heart conditions could cause the nails to take on a blue tone. If I see this condition in a dermatology patient, I always refer them back to their internal medicine doctor for a cardiology workup.
5. Black under nails: This condition can occur from hitting the nail somehow. Carpenters frequently get these. The nail bed beneath the nail bleeds and the dried blood turns black. This will dissolve with time. Even if you have hit your nails, you should have the condition checked by a dermatologist or medical doctor as it could indicate melanoma – a deadly skin cancer.
6. Red lines under nail plates: These are lines of blood, or splinter hemorrhages, that may indicate a heart condition.
1. Vertical ripples/pits: This nail condition almost always accompanies psoriasis or other inflammatory skin conditions. The skin beneath the nail can also be discolored a red-brown. However, if you do a lot of work with your hands without wearing gloves, this surface damage may be from grating or hitting your nails against hard surfaces as well.
2. Cracks, splits, peeling: These nail conditions usually accompany a fungal infection of the nail (especially if they are also a yellow color). It can also indicate thyroid disease where the nails become brittle and break easily. If your nails look like this your dermatologist should be able to determine if it is fungal-based condition. If not, you can check with your internal medicine doctor for some thyroid function blood studies to determine if you have thyroid disease (either too high or low).
3. Red, swollen nail fold: Inflammation of the skin fold, the skin around the base of your nails, can simply indicate infected cuticles from doing a lot of housework without gloves. The skin becomes dry and cracks, which may lead to bleeding and become infection. Soaking your hands in warm water for a few minutes and then applying a moisturizing antibiotic cream to the cuticles, covering with cotton gloves, can help heal infected, inflamed cuticles. Be sure to wear heavy, cotton lined plastic gloves though for future housework. See also #4 below. This condition can sometimes indicate lupus or other inflammatory connective tissue disease. You likely would have other more profound symptoms as well, but your medical doctor can run tests to determine it.
4. Bitten, chewed, picked-at nails: This usually harmless nail condition can reveal an underlying anxiety disorder. It may also result in cuticle and nail fold infections which may require antibiotic treatment. Addressing the anxiety disorder can help you stop disfiguring your nails. Anti-nail biting products can be applied to your fingernails to help as well. If you chronically pick at dry skin of your cuticles/nail folds, that, can be helped by applying a thick, waterproof moisturizer and wearing cotton gloves to help skin re-absorb moisture.
5. Spoon-shaped nails: These are nails that have a concave depression in the middle. They may accompany hypothyroidism (low thyroid) or heart problems.
6. Clubbed nails: These are nails that appear to float above the nail bed that has become rounder and wider than normal. This can indicate congenital heart problems.
Keep in mind that many nail conditions can be remedied through identifying nutritional deficiencies, simply wearing gloves when doing housework or outdoor work, or stop biting and picking at nails and/or the skin around your nails. Other nail conditions can indicate underlying general health problems. Periodically taking a good look at your nails can alert you to seeing your dermatologist or internal medicine doctor.
Jay Brachfeld, M.D.
Natural Health News
What Your Nails Say About Your Health, http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/ss/slideshow-nails-and-health
Top 10 Things Your Nails Say About Your Health, http://health.howstuffworks.com/skin-care/nail-care/health/5-things-nails-say-about-health2.htm
photo credit: ehow.com