two hands showing damaged and bitten fingernails

What Your Nails Reveal About Your Health

The eyes may be the windows to the soul, but your fingernails can be the door to your health. They can reveal the secrets of overall health status and provide clues to conditions or illnesses that you may not know you have. But dr. Jeffrey Linder, chief of internal medicine and geriatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, says some nail changes are simply the result of aging, so “it’s important not to be alarmed if you see something abnormal,” he says.

Nail changes to watch out for:

Lunula color. According to AARP, nails have a white crescent shape at their base, just above the cuticle. A change in color or size may indicate an underlying disease. For example, if the lunula extends almost to the top of the nail, turning most of the nail white, it could be a sign of liver cirrhosis, chronic renal failure, or congestive heart failure.

yellow nails. One of the most common causes of yellow nails is a fungal infection, WebMD says. As the infection worsens, the nail bed can contract and the nails can thicken and crumble. In rare cases, yellow nails can indicate severe thyroid disease, lung disease, or diabetes.

Ripples. If the nail surface is wrinkled or pitted, it can be an early sign of inflammatory arthritis. The skin under the nail may also appear reddish brown.

gnawed nails. A nail-biting habit may indicate an underlying anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder. If you can’t stop biting your nails, see a health care professional, WebMD says.

lines. If a dark-colored stripe runs down the length of your nails, it could be a sign of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Consult your doctor or dermatologist immediately if you notice this sign.

Going to a nightclub. Nail clubbing occurs when the tips of the fingers enlarge and the nails curve around the fingertips, usually over the years, the Mayo Clinic says. Nail clubbing can indicate low blood oxygen levels caused by various types of lung conditions. Nail clubbing has also been linked to inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, liver disease and AIDS.

pitting. Ice-pick-like depressions in the nails are called nail pitting and are common in people with psoriasis. Nail pitting is also associated with connective tissue disorders, such as alopecia areata – an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss.

Beau’s lines. These are indentations that run horizontally across the nails and are linked to uncontrolled diabetes and peripheral vascular disease, as well as diseases associated with high fevers, such as scarlet fever, measles, mumps, and pneumonia. Beau’s lines are also a sign of zinc deficiency, the Mayo Clinic says.

Blue tint. Nails that appear bluish could be a warning sign of COVID-19, AARP says. Linder says this could indicate low blood oxygen levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone with this symptom seek immediate medical attention.

brittle nails. If your nails are thin and brittle, it could indicate thyroid disease. But they may just need a little more TLC. Wear gloves when washing dishes or cleaning with chemicals that can damage your nails. Another way to keep your nails healthy is to eat a balanced diet.

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