It is important to examine our nails regularly and check for any discolorations and changes in nail shape and structure. Our nails are seldom the first clues to disease, but it is nevertheless valuable to know that certain diseases manifest in our nails. Being able to discern between the serious and less serious signs in our nails will enable us to know when to seek advice and when we can take measures to resolve the problem ourselves. Overall, nail health remains an important part of a healthy body.

In order to notice abnormalities, we must first be acquainted with what a normal nail should look like. A healthy nail is semi-transparent, light pink and intact on the nail bed. The white half moon (or lunula) is visible just above the cuticle. Examining the nails may not provide an absolute diagnostic tool, but if the changes below are noticed and you have any concerns about them, speak to your doctor.

What Do Changes In Nail Color Reveal?

  • Yellow Nail Syndrome is a yellow discoloration of the fingernails and may indicate respiratory conditions and lymphatic conditions. Other characteristics of yellow nail syndrome include thickening of the nails, stunted new growth and there may even be detachment from the nail bed in some instances.
  • Terry’s Nails manifest in opaque-looking nails with a dark band at the tip of the nail. Although the condition may just be due to aging, it may also indicate more serious conditions e.g. congestive heart failure, diabetes, liver disease or malnutrition.
  • Dark spots on the nail may indicate something as serious as skin cancer (melanoma). Get medical advice on this condition as soon as possible.
  • Deep blue nail beds or pale blueish nails may be indicative of asthma, emphysema or anemia as it points to a decrease in oxygen supply
  • Green nails may point to a fungal infection
  • White spots on the nails do not point to zinc or calcium deficiency, but rather to injury. As the spots show up to 5 weeks following the injury, it may be hard to recall the incident causing the injury. The injury can be minor trauma such as excessive pressure on the nail or it may even indicate an allergic reaction to certain nail products, for example nail polish or hardeners. The white spots eventually grow out and in about 7 months they may disappear.
  • White nail color can possibly reveal liver or kidney disorders. However, by the time these symptoms show up in the nails, there may have been other symptoms you may have noticed.

What Do Changes in Nail Structure Reveal?

  • Pitting nails have small depressions in the nail and is common in psoriasis which is a skin condition causing scaly patches. Therefore, symptoms will have been seen in the skin as well. Nail injuries may also cause pitting and the condition may sometimes cause the nails to crumble. It is generally associated with conditions that damage the cuticle such as chronic dermatitis of the fingers or an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss.
  • Nail clubbing is characterized by enlargement of the tips of the fingers and the nails curving around the fingertips. It results from a decrease in oxygen levels in the blood and could be a sign of lung disease. It has also been associated with inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease and liver disease.
  • In spoon nails the nails are soft and appear scooped out. The depression in the nail is usually large enough to hold a drop of liquid. This condition points to iron-deficiency anemia.
  • Beau’s Lines are horizontal indentations which may appear when growth under the cuticle is interrupted either by injury or diseases such as uncontrolled diabetes, circulatory diseases, pneumonia or other illnesses associated with high fever, or malnutrition. Nail growth may be interrupted by other factors too such as the weather, pregnancy, age and stress. Infections of the digestive tract may also affect nail growth. In rare cases the lines may point to poisoning.
  • In onycholysis the nail separates from the underlying nail bed. May be caused by injury, thyroid disease, reactions to drugs or nail products. The condition has also been associated with psoriasis.
  • Vertical ridges on fingernails can be both superficial or deep. The superficial ridges may simply be due to a lack of moisture or due to the normal aging process. The deeper ridges may indicate arthritis or decreased circulation to the base of the nail.
  • Split finger nails that are dry and brittle have been linked to thyroid diseases. If also combined with a yellowish color, it may be due to a fungal infection. Exposure to harsh detergents may also cause the nails to split.

Interesting Facts about Your Fingernails:

  • They grow four times faster than toenails.
  • Your middle finger nail grows the fastest while the thumbnail grows the slowest
  • Your fingernails grow at a rate of about 3 mm (1/8 inch) per month
  • Nails grow faster during pregnancy
  • Nails on your dominant hand (the writing hand) grow faster since writing stimulates blood flow
  • Nails grow faster in warmer climates
  • Men have faster growing fingernails than women

To see how pictures on how these changes in nail color and structure look, click here.

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