What your nails reveal about your health

The eyes may be the windows to the soul, but your nails could be the doorway to your health. They can reveal secrets to general health and provide clues to conditions or illnesses 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 alarm if you see anything out of the ordinary,” he says.

Nail changes to watch out for:

lunula color. According to AARP, fingernails have a white half-moon shape at their base, just above the cuticle. A change in color or size could indicate an underlying disease. For example, if the lunula extends almost to the top of the nail, turning the majority of the nail white, it could be a sign of cirrhosis of the liver, chronic kidney failure, or congestive heart failure.

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

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

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

Lines. If there is a dark-colored streak running down your fingernails, it could be a sign of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Consult your doctor or dermatologist immediately if you notice this sign.

Clubbing. Clubbing occurs when the fingertips widen and the nails curve around the fingertips, usually over years, explains the Mayo Clinic. Clubbing could indicate a lack of oxygen in the blood triggered by various types of lung diseases. Clubbing is also associated with inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, and AIDS.

Stings. 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. They are indentations that cross the fingernails horizontally and are linked to uncontrolled diabetes and peripheral vascular disease, as well as diseases associated with high fever, such as scarlet fever, measles, mumps and pneumonia. Beau’s lines are also a sign of zinc deficiency, the Mayo Clinic explains.

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

Brittle nails. If your nails are thin and brittle, it may signal a thyroid disorder. But they might just need a little more TLC. Wear gloves when washing dishes or cleaning with chemicals that can affect your fingernails. Another way to keep your nails healthy is to have a balanced diet.

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