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Healthy Fingernails: Clues About Your Health

Fingernail color and texture can reflect a wide range of medical conditions.

Tips for Strong, Healthy Fingernails continued...

He says he sometimes tries to guess if a person has anemia by looking at his or her nails. He explains that pale, whitish nail beds may indicate a low red blood cell count consistent with anemia.

An iron deficiency can cause the nail bed to be thin and concave and have raised ridges.

While most of Fox's patients don't come in to report nail problems, he routinely checks patients to make sure they have healthy fingernails. "The nails offer many little clues to what's going on inside you. Lupus patients get quirky, angular blood vessels in their nail folds. Psoriasis starts in the nails up to 10% of the time" and causes splitting and pitting of the nail bed.

Heart disease can turn the nail beds red. Obsessive-compulsive disorder can show up in the nails through persistent nail-biting or picking, Fox says.

Even common disorders like thyroid disease can cause abnormalities in the nail beds, producing dry, brittle nails that crack and split easily.

He lists the following 10 examples of nail changes that could indicate a serious medical condition.

 

A Guide toHealthy Fingernails:
10 Possible Signs of Serious Conditions

Nail Appearance

Associated Condition

White nails

Liver diseases such as hepatitis

Yellowish, thickened, slow-growing nails

Lung diseases such as emphysema

Yellowish nails with a slight blush at the base

Diabetes

Half-white, half-pink nails

Kidney disease

Red nail beds

Heart disease

Pale or white nail beds

Anemia

Pitting or rippling of the nail surface

Psoriasis or inflammatory arthritis

"Clubbing," a painless increase in tissue around the ends of the fingers, or inversion of the nail

Lung diseases

Irregular red lines at the base of the nail fold

Lupus or connective tissue disease

Dark lines beneath the nail

Melanoma

'Rarely the First Clue'

But can a doctor truly detect undiagnosed heart disease or kidney problems by looking at your nails? American College of Physicians spokesman Christine Laine, MD, MPH, says it's not likely. She doesn't dispute the connection between nails and disease, but she cautions, "Nail changes are rarely the first clue of serious illness. In most instances, patients will manifest other signs or symptoms of disease before nail changes become evident. For example, it would be unusual that nail clubbing was the first thing a patient with emphysema noticed. Breathing difficulty probably would have been present already."

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