HEALTH TALK: Your nails and your health

Dr. Victor Emanuel MD
Dr. Victor Emanuel MD

You may not be aware of it, but your fingernails may signal problems in the liver, lungs, heart, and elsewhere, including the skin, from which the nail is derived.

Your nails can reveal clues to your overall health. A touch of white here, a rose tinge there, or some rippling or bumps may be a sign of disease in the body. Problems in the liver, lungs and heart can show up in your nails. Read along and learn what secrets your nails might reveal.

Very pale nails are sometimes linked to aging. But they can also be a sign of serious illness, such as:
• Anemia. (Low hemoglobin, weak blood). If you’ve ever been to the doctor and he /she examines your nails, chances are that this is the first thing he/she is looking for.
• Congestive heart failure. The heart is unable to maintain the necessary output to satisfy the body’s needs for oxygen, nutrients, et cetera.
• Diabetes.
• Liver Disease.
• Malnutrition.

If the nails are mostly white with darker rims, this can indicate liver problems, such as hepatitis. You may also find that the fingers are jaundiced (yellow), another sign of liver trouble.

One of the most common causes of yellow nails is a fungal infection. As the infection worsens, the nail bed may retract, and nails may thicken and crumble. Sometimes, the nail will lift right off the nail bed by itself, with no pain. In rare cases, yellow nails may indicate a more serious condition, such as severe thyroid disease or psoriasis.

Nails with a bluish tint can mean the body isn’t getting enough oxygen. This could indicate an infection in the lungs, such as pneumonia.

If the surface of the nail is rippled or pitted, this may be an early sign of psoriasis or inflammatory arthritis. Psoriasis is a skin condition that starts in the nails 10% of the time.

Dry, brittle nails that frequently crack or split have been linked to thyroid disease. Cracking or splitting combined with a yellowish hue is more likely due to a fungal infection.

The nail fold is the area from which the nails begin and continue to grow from the last part of the skin. If the skin around the nail appears red and puffy, this is known as inflammation of the nail fold. It may be the result of systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus or SLE) or another connective tissue disorder, perhaps progressive systemic sclerosis (scleroderma).

Dark lines beneath the nail should be investigated as soon as possible. They are sometimes caused by melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer. As a point of interest, this is what Robert Nester Marley (Bob Marley) died from. It started in one of his big toes and eventually spread to his brain.

Biting your nails may be nothing more than an old habit, but in some cases it’s a sign of persistent anxiety that could benefit from treatment. Nail biting or picking has also been linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder, a psychiatric diagnosis. If you can’t stop, it’s worth discussing with your doctor.

Though nail changes accompany many conditions, these changes are rarely the first sign. And many nail abnormalities are harmless – not everyone with white nails has hepatitis. If you’re concerned about the appearance of your nails, see a dermatologist.

By the way, as much as I often admire the work of manicurists and pedicurists, it might sometimes, always for that matter, be a good idea if you see the doc first, and then get a mani-pedi. As you can tell, doc may be able to pick up valuable information about your health that will of course be of benefit to you, but not if they’re nicely painted or stuck on or all that interesting stuff that you get done to them.

This was a short one, but I consider it one of the most important I’ve done in a little while. The fact is, it takes so little to look at your nails and decide that something may be wrong with them, warranting a trip to doc’s office.

See you next week.

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  1. A Higher Calling
    April 25, 2014

    Really useful info. Many thanks Doc.

  2. April 25, 2014

    Apart from the nail problems that are indicated above , there are now many facture of skin problems that are linked to the chemicals that are used to put fake nail…there is also a new product on the market ,,which has led to amputating or cutting off the fingers,,,the chemical can be very dangerous after it has been absorbed by the cuticle or the skin close to the nail…good luck to all women who uses fake nails even though the problems that the doctor have stated are not linked to fake nails and chemical…place all your nail products away from your children…

    • ?
      April 26, 2014

      And what is the name of this “new product” on the market…if I may ask?…

  3. Catarina
    April 25, 2014

    Thanks this is fantastic info , I often wondered about the changes in my fingernails.

  4. April 25, 2014

    I read your online post all the time keep up your informative information.

  5. i must speak
    April 25, 2014

    thanks doc it was an interesting piece as a matter of fact i was holding my breath and reading hoping that my nails dont fall under one- and it didnt thank god!

    however, my son is always biting his nails maybe its well worth going to the doctor thanks alot!

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