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What your nails can tell you about your health

written by Vidya Sury July 20, 2019
What your nails can tell you about your health

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How well do you know your nails?

Did you know that your nails can be a pretty good indicator of how healthy you are? In fact, when you go to the doctor and have a clinical examination: eyes, tongue, breathing, etc. she also checks your nails  because she knows what your nails can tell you about your health.

Healthy nails are generally smooth with a consistent color. If there’s something unusual or abnormal, it can invariably be treated. But sometimes, it can be a health condition that needs attention. Can be a white spot, a pinkish tint, some ridges and bumps—all of which can tell you what’s going on in your body. If there’s an underlying liver, lung or heart issue, the nails can tell. In other cases, a health condition that may need medical attention and treatment might be the cause.

When my Mom had lung fibrosis, she had to take medication that eventually resulted in chronic kidney disease and high blood pressure. We had to visit the doctor periodically and every time, her checkup included her nails. In fact, it was by checking her nails that her diagnosis of tuberculosis was made.

What I am about to share here is obviously not medical advice, simply because many factors come into the picture before any diagnosis can be made; so, I’d suggest you see a medical professional for the right diagnosis and treatment.

However, it is good to know what to watch out for so you can get the right treatment in time.

Here is what your nails can tell you about your health.

Pale nails

If your nails are white or rather pale, it can be signs of aging. It can also be due to anemia, congestive heart failure, liver disease or malnutrition. If the nail bed is thin and concave and the ridges are raised, there might be an iron deficiency.

White nails

White nails with darkish rims can imply liver problems (hepatitis). If they are yellowish, it could mean jaundice.

White spots on your nails

This can be caused by minor trauma—when you hit your finger against something.

Yellow nails

When there’s a fungal infection, the nails can turn yellow. If it gets worse, the nail bed retracts and the nails become thicker, causing them to crumble. Yellow nails can also signal thyroid problems, lung disease, diabetes or psoriasis. It could also be signs of aging. Besides, yellow nails are often caused by nail lacquers or acrylic nails. Taking a break from these can help the nail to recover. Another likely cause is smoking where the nicotine stains turn the nails yellowish. Time to think of kicking the butt.

Bluish Nails

When the body is not getting enough oxygen, or if there is a lung infection, the nails turn bluish. Often, pneumonia is diagnosed this way. When the base of the nail is bluish, it could be diabetes.

Rippled Nails

Rippled or pitted nails herald the start of psoriasis or arthritis. The discoloring of nails is not unusual and can be due to many reasons. But psoriasis of the skin often begins with the nails. If your nails have pits and dents, see your doctor right away.

Dry and brittle nails

Dry or brittle nails crack and split and this could mean thyroid disease. If there is a fungal infection, it can also take on a yellowish hue. Soft brittle nails could be simply because the nail plate is dry and this happens from swimming, or too much nail polish remover, washing the dishes without gloves or even because of a low-humidity area. Aging, the use of chemicals are also causes for dry and brittle nails. Hypothyroidism can also cause dry brittle nails.

Use a moisturizing lotion on the nails to prevent them from drying.

Puffy nail fold

Sometimes the skin around the nail becomes red and puffy and can be due to inflammation, lupus or connective tissue problems.


When the ends of the fingers swell, the nail becomes curved and rounded, indicating liver or kidney disease.

What your nails can tell you about your health

Horizontal ridges

Horizontal ridges on nails can be due to an injury or an illness or a drug reaction from treatments such as chemotherapy.

 Vertical ridges

Aging causes vertical ridges on the nails.

Dark lines or a painful growth

Dark lines or a painful growth on the nails are caused by melanoma—a skin cancer. See the doctor right away.

Nail biting

While biting the nails is a common habit, excessive biting or picking at the skin around the nails shows anxiety or OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) that must be treated.

Spoon nails

Thin nails that become concave due to iron deficiency anemia are called spoon nails. This can be treated with iron supplements.

So, when should you see a doctor?

Be alert to any changes in your fingernails and toenails. If you notice something abnormal, see your doctor right away.  Your nails can tell you about your health through the following changes:

  • Change in the shape of your nails such as clubbing or curling.
  • Change in color—dark white streaks etc.
  • Change in thickness—thinning or thickening
  • Brittle nails
  • Pitted nails
  • Redness around nails
  • Swelling around nails
  • Pain around nails
  • Bleeding around nails
  • Nails coming off from the skin

Many of these can be harmless. Sometimes, it can be just one of the symptoms of a health issue that needs treatment, so it is important to listen to what your body is telling you. For example, white nails automatically do not mean hepatitis. Notice any changes and consult with your doctor before jumping into any conclusions on your own.

Here are some tips to keep your nails looking healthy and strong.

  • Keep your nails clean and dry.
  • Do not bite your nails.
  • Moisturize your nails and cuticles daily to prevent cracking.
  • When filing your nail, file in one direction and keep the tip slightly rounded.
  • Don’t remove the cuticles.
  • Avoid cleaning too deep under the nails as it invites infections.
  • If there are ingrown toenails, do not dig. See a dermatologist if it hurts.
  • Avoid nail varnish removers that have acetone or formaldehyde.
  • Manicure your own nails.
  • If you use artificial nails, look for a greenish color that’s usually the sign of a bacterial infection.
  • Eat a healthy, nutritious and balanced diet.
  • Manage your stress as it can affect your nail health.

Read: Can your nails get stronger with calcium

Can your nails get stronger with calcium?

As I mentioned earlier, healthy nails are smooth and evenly colored and do not break easily. So if you notice something unusual that worries you, best check with your doc. Make sure you take care of your nails!

Stay healthy!

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