How Your Nails Warn You About Serious Health Conditions

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Most people don’t give a lot of
thought to their fingernails beyond clipping or painting. However, the
shape, texture and color of your nails can all be warning signs for
serious conditions, including cancer. While some nail symptoms are
harmless, others can be indicative of chronic diseases.

How Your Nails Warn You About Serious Health Conditions

How Your Nails Warn You About Serious Health Conditions

Most people don’t give a lot of thought to their fingernails beyond
clipping or painting. However, the shape, texture and color of your
nails can all be warning signs for serious conditions, including cancer.
While some nail symptoms are harmless, others can be indicative of
chronic diseases.

The American Academy of Dermatology (1) notes that changes in nails,
such as discoloration or thickening, can point to health problems
including liver and kidney diseases, heart and lung conditions, anemia
and diabetes.

If you notice any major changes on your nails see a dermatologist right
away. While it might be nothing, it could point to a serious underlying
condition.

1. Yellow Fingernails

While your fingernails may become yellow with age, due to
smoking, or frequent use of nail polish, if they are also thicker and
crumbly besides being yellow, a fungal infection is the most likely
culprit.

In rare cases yellow fingernails can be related to thyroid disease, diabetes, or psoriasis.

2. Cracked or Brittle Nails

Your nails can become cracked and brittle if you use nail
polish remover frequently, or are exposed to chemicals (such as cleaning
products).

However, cracking and splitting can also be a sign of a fungal infection
or thyroid disease, particularly hypothyroidism. Brittle nails may
point to a deficiency in vitamins A, B or C.

3. Clubbing

If your fingertips become enlarged and the nail becomes
curved downward, it may be a sign of clubbing. It can point to low
oxygen in your blood, associated with lung disease. In extreme cases, it
can be related to liver or kidney disease, heart disease, or even AIDS.

4. White Spots

These small white spots are usually the result of nail trauma
and are not a cause for concern. They will disappear on their own.
However, if they don’t go away, you might be dealing with a fungal
infection.

5. Horizontal Ridges

Horizontal ridges, also known as
Beau’s lines, are typically the result of direct trauma to the nail.
They can, however, be a symptom of a more concerning condition if they
appear on more than one nail at a time. These conditions include
psoriasis, uncontrolled diabetes, circulatory disease and severe zinc
deficiency.

There is a more serious type of horizontal lines, known as Mees’ lines.
They are horizontal discolorations due to arsenic poisoning, Hodgkin’s
disease, malaria, leprosy, or carbon monoxide poisoning.

6. Vertical Ridges

If you notice vertical ridges appearing in your nails that
you didn’t have before, it’s probably nothing more than a side effect of
aging (2). They’re equivalent to getting wrinkles in your skin and
usually don’t appear until around the age of 50. Occasionally, nail
ridges may be due to nutrient deficiencies, including vitamin B12 and
magnesium.

7. Spoon Nails

This deformity is definitely visible enough to catch your
immediate attention. Known as “spoon nails” (3), they most commonly
appear due to an iron deficiency. The nail gets so thin that it becomes
concave.

If you notice this, have some lab work done to determine if anemia is
the issue. Other causes include working with petroleum-based products or
trauma. In very rare circumstances, spoon nails can be associated with
thyroid disease and heart conditions (4).

8. Pitting

Multiple pits or dents in fingernails is often a sign of
psoriasis. However, nail pitting may also be due to connective tissue
disorders or alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that causes hair
loss.

9. Dark Discolorations

Any sort of asymmetric pigmentation can be a sign of skin
cancer, but melanoma on nails (called subungual melanoma) usually looks
like a pigmented vertical band stretching upward from the cuticle (5).
If a brownish streak on your nail bed shows up suddenly or changes in
appearance, see a dermatologist as soon as possible.

10. White Nails with a Strip of Pink (Terry’s Nails)

If you notice your nails become mostly white with a narrow
pink strip at the top, known as Terry’s nails (6), it could be a sign of
liver disease, congestive heart failure, kidney failure, or diabetes.
But do not enter panic mode right away, Terry’s nails may appear due to
aging.

11. Claws and Fur

If you notice that your fingernails are turning into claws
and you are starting to grow fur on your hands paws, you are either a
cat, or suffering from a very rare disease called clinical lycanthropy
(not to be confused with werewolf syndrome). However, these symptoms can
also be the result of old age.

Disclosure: While we did try to end the article on a humorous
note, please take any symptoms seriously and visit your dermatologist
whenever you notice drastic changes on your nails.

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