Recently a patient of mine asked me to take a look at his fingernails and had some questions about them. His fingernails were very dry, brittle, and cracked, which is often linked to thyroid disease. Indeed, as he was actually hospitalized for a thyroid issue, but he wanted to know if the condition of his fingernails meant anything.
Also, my wife often talks to me about her fingernails, as she pays very close attention to any changes she may notice. She’s had family members suffer from diseases that the first clues to diagnosis were changes in their fingernails, so she is extra meticulous about regularly examining hers.
The truth is though; your fingernails can help paint a picture of your overall health and give you valuable information that you need to pay attention to. But first, a quick science lesson on what your fingernails are made of.
Living skin cells in your fingers produce fingernails. They consist of several parts including the nail plate (the visible part of the nail), the nail bed (the skin beneath the nail plate), the cuticle (the tissue that overlaps the plate and rims the base of the nail), the nail folds (the skin folds that frame and support the nail on three sides), the lunula (the whitish half-moon at the base of the nail) and the matrix (the hidden part of the nail unit under the cuticle).
Fingernails grow from the matrix. The nails are composed largely of keratin, a hardened protein (that is also in skin and hair). As new cells grow in the matrix, the older cells are pushed out, compacted and take on the familiar flattened, hardened form of the fingernail (Medicinenet, 2017).
Normal healthy nails are strong, smooth, uniform, and colorless. Changes in their shape, color, density, and overall condition usually indicate something is going on that you need to address.
The first thing to watch for is changes in the shape and texture. Clubbing, Spooning, Dipping, and Rippling can all be red flags and cause for concern.
Clubbing is often the result of low blood oxygen levels and typically caused by various types of lung disease. It’s also associated with liver disease, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease and AIDS. Clubbed nails curve outward and bubble up.
When nails are spoon shaped, that is, they looked scooped out, this typically indicates iron deficiency anemia or a liver condition known as hemochromatosis, when your body absorbs too much iron from your food. This can also be associated with hypothyroidism and heart disease.
Pitting fingernails, or nails with icepick-like depressions are common with people who suffer from psoriasis, a condition characterized by scaly patches on the skin. And Rippling fingernails may also be an early sign of psoriasis or inflammatory arthritis.
The second thing to pay attention to is the overall color and tone of your fingernails.
Yellow usually means fungus. If you’re nails appear yellow, you may need to be treated with antifungal medication. In some cases, yellow fingernails are a sign of respiratory disease, such as chronic bronchitis.
Blue nails frequently mean you need oxygen and also may indicate that you have some type of respiratory disease going on.
White nails often indicate 1 of 2 things. The first is that you are aging (it’s common in older adults) and the 2nd may mean problems with your liver.
As you can see, your nails can tell you a lot about your overall health condition. And I only mentioned a few of the most common fingernail problems; there are many more changes that can signal you something is wrong such as Beau’s lines, onycholysis, dark lines, white spots, splinter hemorrhages and more.
Pay attention to your fingernails and if they don’t like right to you, have a medical professional check them out.