7 Things Your Nails Can Reveal About Your Health



You could have a circulatory problem

Changes to the shape, color, and texture of your nails could be a sign of something serious.

Some people have round nail beds genetically. But suddenly swollen skin near the cuticles with nails that are bulbous—meaning the nail is shaped like an upside-down spoon—is a surefire reason to have your hands and feet checked out. Nail clubbing is often sign of a more serious disease related to the heart and lungs, such as emphysema, lung cancer, congenital heart disease, or cirrhosis.

You could have melanoma

‘Pigmented bands in the nail are common and usually normal especially in people with darker complexions,’ says Dana Stern, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. However, she notes that dark bands or stripes could also be a sign of cancer. Most people think melanoma starts in the skin, but it can also begin under the nail, specifically in the thumb, index finger and big toe nail. Keep an eye out for a single brown or black band and if there is a brownish pigment to the skin surrounding the nail. It’s hard to determine if a dark band is benign or something more serious, so head to a dermatologist for an evaluation if you notice something new.

You could be anemic

When your nail bed is concave—imagine a droplet of water resting on the nail plate without rolling off—you have a condition known as koilonychia, or ‘spoon-shaped nails.’ The condition is usually caused by an iron deficiency. If you notice your nails are concave, ask your doctor to run blood work to check for anemia, notes Dr. Stern.

You could have an inflammatory disease

Nail pitting, which looks like tiny little dents along the surface of the nail, is associated with psoriasis. The condition is also a symptom of Alopecia areata, a disease marked by hair loss.

You could have thyroid issues

Brittle nails that peel or split can be caused by certain medical conditions like an underactive thyroid, Rayndaud’s disease, and a protein deficiency. ‘If someone always had great nails and suddenly they are peeling or breaking excessively, check blood work including thyroid hormones,’ says Dr. Stern.

You could have metal poisoning

Most white lines on the nail are normal or may have been cause by trauma—think banging or crushing the fingernail. However, white crescents that descend from the lunula (the white half moon at the top of the nail) can be serious. This is a telltale sign of Mees’ lines, a condition caused by arsenic or poisoning by other heavy metals. Dr. Stern advises a full medical evaluation if you notice the condition. White crescents on the nail can also be a side effect of chemotherapy.

You’re milking your manicure for too long

If your nails are yellow, it’s usually caused from having nail polish on for an extended period of time and is no reason to worry, according to Dr. Stern. Take the polish off to let your nails breathe. The yellowing should be gone within a few days. If yellowing is prolonged, check in with a doctor to rule out a fungal infection.

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