Most people tend to think of their nails just as vehicles for nail polish, gel manicures, dip powder manicures, or acrylics, but it turns out that your nails can actually tell you a lot about the state of your overall health! If your body is unhealthy, that unhealthiness reflects itself in the keratin that makes up your fingernails and toenails.
In fact, your nails might know that you’re getting sick before you do! Of course, inspecting your fingernails is not a viable equivalent to seeing a doctor, but if you’re feeling a little off, your nails just might be able to hint at the reasons why!
Most of the time, yellow nails are nothing to worry about. Your nails might yellow as you turn older. They also might yellow due to overuse of acrylics, nail polish, or due to a smoking habit. However, yellow nails can also be indicators of several health issues. If your nails are yellow and crumbling, you might have a fungal infection. Yellow nails are occasionally symptoms of thyroid disease, diabetes, psoriasis, and certain varieties of respiratory disease. If you’ve been experiencing other symptoms of these diseases along with yellowing nails, it might be time to schedule a doctor’s appointment.
The majority of the time, dry, brittle, or peeling nails are also merely a cosmetic issue. Your nails might be dry if you spend a lot of time submerging them in water (washing dishes, swimming, doing laundry, etc.). They also might be dry if you regularly expose them to the harsh chemicals present in cleaning supplies and nail polish remover. However, chronically dry nails, even with limited exposure to water and chemicals, might be a sign of vitamin deficiency, a fungal infection, or hypothyroidism.
If you’ve ever dropped a heavy book on your hand or accidentally slammed your hand in a door, you might notice small white spots developing on your fingernails. These spots are injury marks due to nail trauma and are generally not a cause of concern. As your nail grows, they will fade or grow out, leaving no trace of their former presence. However, if a small white spot on your nail persists even after the nail has grown out, that might be an indicator of a fungal infection.
Black or Brown Spots
If your hand or foot has sustained an especially harsh blow, you might see a bruise, or subungual hematoma, form underneath your nail. If the bruise is especially painful, a doctor can actually drain the blood from underneath your nail, relieving the pressure. Either way, the bruise should grow out along with your nail. If you see black spots or brown, vertical stripes underneath your fingernails or toenails, but have not sustained any sort of hand or foot trauma, call your doctor. These growths might be melanomas, or evidence of skin cancer.
Again, if you’ve recently taken a strong blow to your hand, you might notice red, bloody-looking streaks in your nails. That’s perfectly normal, and the streaks will grow out with time. If you notice red, vertical streaks in your nails and you have not recently sustained an injury to your hand or foot, this could be an indicator of a serious cardiovascular issue. Check with your doctor to see if you have endocarditis, or heart infection, especially if you’re also experiencing symptoms like fever, weight loss, muscle pain, and coughing.
If you’ve developed horizontal raised ridges on just one nail, that means that you’ve probably sustained some sort of trauma to that finger or toe. If you see similarly-shaped horizontal ridges on multiple fingernails or toenails, they might have occurred due to a recent illness, especially one that gave you a high fever.
Many people experience ridges on their fingernails and toenails after contracting scarlet fever or pneumonia. Because your body was so busy fighting off disease, it slowed down your nail growth to save resources, creating those ridges. Of course, the ridges don’t appear until after you’ve already recovered from your illness, so they’re not really an indicator of your current health, but rather your past health.
Vertical ridges on your nails are also quite innocuous and are generally not an indicator of any serious illness. Many people develop vertical ridges on their nails as they grow older. Vertical ridges on the nails are as common of a sign of aging as wrinkles! If you’re relatively younger, but still notice vertical ridges on more than one of your nails, that might be a sign of a vitamin B12 or magnesium deficiency. At your next annual checkup, ask your doctor if they recommend supplements to correct these deficiencies.
Normally, fingernails and toenails are supposed to gently slope downwards. Spoon nails occur when the edges of your fingernails or toenails curve upwards, resembling the curve of a spoon. If you notice that you’re developing spoon nails, consider asking your doctor about getting your bloodwork done or taking iron supplements. Spoon nails can occur as a result of anemia or hemochromatosis. If you’ve been on iron supplements for a couple of months, but still have spoon nails, ask your doctor about getting tested for heart disease or hypothyroidism, two conditions that can result in spoon nails.
Conversely, having nails that curve downwards too much can also be an indicator of health problems. Overly curved nails that curl down around the tips of the fingers or toes are also known as clubbed nails. They take months to years to form, but are commonly associated with fairly serious health conditions like hypoxia, irritable bowel syndrome, liver disease, lung disease, and cardiovascular disease. If you notice that you have clubbed nails and are also experiencing other negative health symptoms, you should definitely schedule an appointment with your doctor.
If your nails frequently develop inexplicable pits or dents, with no trauma or injury that could have caused them, that could be evidence that you have psoriasis or eczema. In fact, over 50% of people who have psoriasis experience pits or dents on their fingernails and toenails. If you notice that you have pitted nails, and also experience other symptoms of psoriasis or eczema, like inflammation, redness, and itchiness on the skin, you should definitely make an appointment with your doctor or dermatologist.
Many people have a bad nail-biting habit. Biting your nails is not generally something that you need to worry about. But if you experience uncontrollable, excessive compulsions to bite or pick at the skin around your nails, that may be a symptom of an obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD. It also might be a symptom of dermatillomania, a disorder on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum that involves compulsive skin picking and tics. If you get diagnosed with OCD or dermatillomania, a doctor or psychiatrist might prescribe anti-anxiety medications to treat your nail-biting issue.
There is actually a medical name for the condition of having abnormally pale nails: Terry’s nails. If your nail beds look unusually white, you might have developed a fungal nail infection. In that case, your fingertips or toes might also appear abnormally red by contrast. It’s also possible that you suffer from anemia, iron deficiency, diabetes, or hyperthyroidism, all of which are conditions that can be diagnosed after an appointment with your doctor. Finally, Terry’s nails are also a side effect of chemotherapy treatments.
Bluish or Purple-ish Nails
There are a variety of factors that might explain why your nails look bluish or purple-ish. If the bases of your nails look blue or purple, and the rest of your nails look very pale, you might be suffering from an iron deficiency, liver or pancreas problem, or from the early stages of diabetes. If your entire nails are turning blue or purple, you might be experiencing hypoxia or lack of oxygen. This occurs when you have poor circulation to your extremities, like your hands, feet, and ears. You might notice the actual skin of your fingertips or tips of your toes turning blue or purple as well.
Almost everybody has little white half-moon shapes at the bases of their nails. If your half-moons are abnormally large and take up over half of the area of your nail, you might be experiencing renal failures or kidney dysfunction. If you already know that you have diabetes or high blood pressure, the probability that you’re experiencing renal failures is even higher. Half-moons that take up over two-thirds of your nail beds are known as Terry’s nails and are commonly associated with liver failure. If you think you have Terry’s nails, you should see your doctor as soon as possible.
Finally, many people with long nails notice that the tips of their nails sometimes separate from their nail beds. Onycholysis, and is generally common, painless, and not a serious cause for concern. It’s most often caused by trauma to the nail or finger. However, if you notice that many of your nails suddenly start to separate from their nail beds, with no trauma or injury involved, you might have hyperthyroidism.