What Your Fingernails Say About Your Health
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What Your Fingernails Say About Your Health

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November 27, 2010, last updated February 1, 2013
By LOUISE CARR, Contributing Columnist


Hands up who pays enough attention to their nails? Itís not just palm readers who can tell the future by studying the hands. Did you know your fingernails reveal a lot about the state of your health? Take a good look at your fingernails. Are they healthy-looking and strong? Or do you detect a yellowy tinge, a bumpy surface or a dark spot? Many nail conditions can be cured by simple hand care techniques but some require further attention.

What Do Healthy Nails Look Like?

Your nails are made from a protein called keratin. When new cells grow they push out the older cells towards the ends of your fingers, which become hard and tough. When youíre looking at perfect pinkies you should see smooth nails Ė healthy nails donít usually have ridges or grooves.

Your nails should be a uniform color, without spots or discolored areas. In reality, our nails donít always look their best due to everyday wear-and-tear. Environmental factors also play a part. According to 2009 research from the University of Manchester, UK nails are more brittle in conditions of low humidity Ė the best environment for non-brittle, healthy nails is 55 percent humidity. Nails catch the brunt of our active lifestyle and many nail abnormalities are harmless, perhaps due to an injury or over-use of nail color.

Many nail conditions, however, are the sign of something more serious. How can you read the fingernail warning signs? Which nail conditions should you take notice of and which are harmless?

Take a look at your nails and then at the descriptions weíve collected below to see what your fingernails are telling you about your health. Here are 10 clues:

















1. Pale Nails

If your nails have turned a whiter shade of pale, it could be due to the aging process. White or pale nails on young hands, however, can sometimes be a sign of serious conditions. Pale nails may indicate anemia, congestive heart failure or malnutrition. If your nails look mostly white with a dark rim, you may be suffering from a liver disease such as hepatitis.

Yellow fingers, indicating jaundice, along with white nails are two warning signs that should not be ignored. Liver cirrhosis, hepatitis C and hepatitis B are associated with skin and nail disorders. A 2005 study from Zagazig University, Zagazig, Egypt reported that nail changes, including brittle nails, nail infection, ridges and pale color, were present in 68 percent of the studied patients who suffered from liver disease, compared to 35 percent of the control group. Itís worth remembering that not all people with white nails have liver disease. Small white marks can be due to minor injuries and will go away on their own. Check your symptoms with a doctor if you are concerned. 

2. Yellow Nails

One of the most distressing nail conditions to have at the end of your fingertips is fungal infection. A fungal infection can cause yellow nails, which are thick to the touch and may be without a cuticle. In extreme cases, yellow nails from a fungal infection can crumble and fall off.

Take care of your yellow nails with specialty ointments and creams. Or you could reach into your collection of cold remedies for the answer to fungal nail infection.

A 2006 study at the Michigan State University found Vicks VapoRub packed a powerful punch - nail infection cleared up in 32 of the 85 patients studied. Researchers think that may be due to the menthol, camphor and eucalyptus in the product, which kills the fungal infection. However, results took anywhere from five to 16 months to show up.

Sometimes, yellow nails indicate thyroid disease, diabetes, lung disease or psoriasis. Yellow nails can also appear as a result of chronic bronchitis.

3. Bluish Nails

If your nails are turning blue, it might mean your body isnít getting enough oxygen. Blue nails may reveal a lung infection like pneumonia. A slight blue tint may indicate diabetes.  Blue fingernails are also a symptom of codeine overdose.

4. Nails with an Uneven Surface

There are a few reasons for pitted, ridged and uneven nails. Psoriasis often causes pits in the nail and crumbling nails. Psoriasis is a skin condition and it is said to start in the nails in 10 percent of cases.

According to 2009 research from the University of Bologna, Italy, up to 78 percent of psoriasis patients suffer from nail psoriasis, which also sometimes gives your nails salmon-colored patches and causes a separation of the nail from the nail bed.

Pitting in your nails may also be caused by conditions that attack the cuticle, like chronic dermatitis or alopecia areata. Vertical ridges Ė running from the tip of your nail to the cuticle - are common, particularly as you get older, and usually are no cause for concern. But if you notice your nails have developed horizontal ridges that run across the nail, get them checked out by your doctor. Horizontal ridges may signal peripheral artery disease, diabetes and respiratory disease.

[Update:

While vertical bands are usually no cause for concern, there are certain diseases which these vertical bands on your fingernails do indicate. One such disease is Hailey-Hailey disease, a benign but unsightly condition which causes blisters to form on your skin. A 2008 study from Jagjivan Ram Hospital in India was one of the first to report the connection between lengthwise marks on your fingernails and this disease.]

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