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Your nails could be warning you about serious health problems — here's what to look out for

INSIDER logoINSIDER 10/26/2017 feedback@thisisinsider.com (Lindsay Mack)

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(Video provided by Wochit News) Your nails are more than a thing to polish. They could be signals of serious health problems.

  • It turns out, your fingernails can tell you a lot about your health.
  • Low oxygen levels, nutritional deficiencies, and even arsenic poisoning can be determined by looking at your fingertips.
  • Many common nail afflictions, such as deep ridges or the appearance of white spots, are completely harmless and normal.  

For some people, nails are a fun body part to decorate. For others, they are barely given any thought. But what many people may not realize is that fingernails can hold important information about an individual’s health.

Before diving into the many things that can go wrong with nails, it’s helpful to understand the basics of regular nail health. A plate-like structure of specialized cells, the nail grows out of a deep groove in the skin’s dermis. The top of the nail, known as the nail plate, is connected to the underlying nail bed, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica. When the cells at the edge of the nail plate grow away from the nail bed, they turn white and die. This is why you’re able to cut the ends of your nails without pain, whereas a cut on the cuticle, which is still alive, can sting quite a bit. 

For the most part, the nails protect the ends of a person’s fingers and toes. Sometimes, however, abnormalities can affect the appearance or function of the nail, and even signify underlying health conditions. For this reason, checking out your nails’ natural appearance from time to time is an excellent way to monitor your health. 

Discoloration could indicate an infection or even liver and kidney issues.

a hand holding a cell phone: secrets nail health 1 © Provided by Business Insider Inc secrets nail health 1 Unusual coloring in your nails may be cause for concern. For instance, mostly white nails may be caused by a condition known as Terry’s nails, which can sometimes act as a sign of liver disease, kidney failure, or heart conditions, according to the Mayo Clinic. A few white spots, however, are common and rarely a cause for concern, according to Healthline. Sometimes an injury to the nail bed results in this common condition, which is also known as leukonychia. 

Yellow nails also have a variety of potential causes, such as fungal infection or even as a result of serious conditions such as thyroid disease or psoriasis, according to WebMD. If you suspect any of these possibilities, you should see a doctor for diagnosis. Of course, nails can also yellow from nail polish stains, as SELF reported, making it a simple manicure issue.   

Blue fingernails may be your body’s reaction to cold temperatures or it could be the result of cyanosis, a condition in which red blood cells lack oxygen and turn a person’s fingernails blue, according to Healthline. If this seems to be the case, a trip to the doctor to measure your blood’s oxygenation levels may be in order.

Lastly, if your nails have a green shade, then you may be dealing with something known as green nail syndrome. People who have a loose nail bed, as well as those who work in damp environments (such as healthcare workers and cooks) are particularly at risk forthis syndrome, which is caused by the growth of bacteria known as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Fortunately, the telltale color makes this syndrome easy for dermatologists to diagnose, and it typically responds well to treatment with antibiotics.

Unusual textures and shapes may be a side effect of nutritional deficiency.

a close up of a hand: 5920166972_644b6387dd_b © Provided by Business Insider Inc 5920166972_644b6387dd_b The many ways nails can take on unusual textures is astounding: Just look up some images of ram’s horn nails for proof. 

This condition, also known as Onychogryphosis, involvesa thick, curling overgrowth of the nail that resembles a ram’s horn, according to News Medical. The condition may result as a side effect of diseases such as psoriasis or hystrix, or it can develop over time in individuals who are unable to care for their nails. It can be treated by a podiatrist, although sometimes the solution is the removal of the nail.

Pronounced ridges in nails could have several explanations. Vertical nail ridges are a normal part of nail growth, and they sometimes get thicker when a person ages, according to the Mayo Clinic. This effect is typically harmless.

If horizontal ridges appear on a person’s nails, however, then this may be cause for concern. These deep grooves, also known as Beau’s lines, may indicate injury to the nail matrix, unmet nutritional needs, infection in the nail plate, drug reactions, or even a high fever, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Consulting with a clinician or dermatologist may provide more insight into the underlying cause of these lines.

Bumps and dips in the nail’s surface can also point to potential areas of concern. For instance, if the surface of the nail appears pitted, then this may point to an issue with nail psoriasis, which is highly correlated to psoriatic arthritis, as explained in Reumatologia. In this instance, what looks like a dimple in a person’s fingernail may point to much more serious health conditions.

Additionally, digital clubbing, in which the nail becomes bulbous and round, often correlates with the presence of health issues such as lung cancer, intestinal disorders, or endocrine disease, according to Lung India. People who experience clubbing nails may want to see a physician to check for the presence of an underlying condition. In this case, a nail anomaly may be an especially important sign of potential health concerns. 

White or dark lines are a potential cause for concern

a close up of a persons hand: secrets nails health 2 © Provided by Business Insider Inc secrets nails health 2 Muehrcke's lines, which are white lines that traverse the entire width of the nail bed, are associated with conditions such as pellagra, renal failure, and sickle cell anemia, according to Medscape. Unlike the harmless leukonychia spots, these horizontal bands do not change with nail growth. 

Another white line, which grows out with the nail, is known as Mees’ line. This is most commonly associated with arsenic or thallium poisoning, as noted in Foot Files. If these appear, then beware of any potential poisoners in your midst.  

Dark stripes, known as linear melanonychia, may also run down the nail. These are normal for many people, but could also point to a form of skin cancer, according to NHS

Split nails are more than an annoyance.

secret nails health 3 © Provided by Business Insider Inc secret nails health 3 The condition onycholysis, which Mayo Clinic describes as fingernails separating from the nail bed, can lead to potential injury, infection, or even drug reactions. Similarly, brittle, splitting nails are also a potential area of worry. Although an iron deficiency may cause brittleness, it’s also possible that your are simple wetting and drying your nails too often, , according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. In this case, taking the time to care for your nails, and wearing gloves while working in damp conditions, can help protect them. 

Overall, nails can be an important barometer of a person’s health. If you notice an unusual line or shape forming, don’t hesitate to reach out to your physician for an examination. Hopefully, though, your nails will only signify good health for many years to come.

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Gallery: 8 weird things your fingernails say about your health (courtesy Organic Life) <p><a href="http://www.womenshealthmag.com/beauty/nail-knowledge?cid=isynd_ROL_0516">Fingernails</a>: you don’t likely think much about ‘em unless you're picking out a polish color. But at some point or another, we’ve probably all seen some strange things happen to our nails, like the appearance of white spots, brittleness, or funky tints.</p><p>What do changes at the tips of your fingers mean? We asked top dermatologists to explain eight weird things that can happen and what each could signal about your health.</p><p>This article was originally published on <a href="http://www.womenshealthmag.com/beauty/fingernails-and-your-health?cid=isynd_ROL_0516">Women's Health</a>.</p> 8 Weird Things Your Fingernails Say About Your Health


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