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What Your Nails Say About Your Health

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

WebMD Feature

Take a good look at your fingernails and you may notice subtle variations in the texture or color - a touch of white here, a rosy tinge there, perhaps some rippling or bumps in the surface. These imperfections may not look like much to you, but to the trained eye they can provide valuable clues about your overall health.

"Just like the eyes are the window to the soul, so are the nails," says Tamara Lior, MD, a dermatologist with Cleveland Clinic Florida. Lior says she once convinced a patient to have his lungs checked after noticing a bluish tint to his nails, a sign that he wasn't getting enough oxygen. Sure enough, he had fluid in his lungs.

Warning signs for many other conditions, from hepatitis to heart disease, may also appear in the nails, according to Joshua Fox, MD, director of Advanced Dermatology and a spokesman for the American Academy of Dermatology. "Changes in the nails can be a sign of a local disease like a fungus infection or a sign of a systemic disease like lupus or anemia," Fox tells WebMD.

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 often checks their nails anyway. "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 abnormities 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.

What Your Nails Say About Your Health:
10 Possible Signs of Serious Conditions
Nail AppearanceAssociated Condition
White nailsLiver diseases, such as hepatitis
Yellowish, thickened, slow-growing nailsLung diseases, such as emphysema
Yellowish nails with a slight blush at the baseDiabetes
Half-white, half-pink nailsKidney disease
Red nail bedsHeart disease
Pale or white nail bedsAnemia
Pitting or rippling of the nail surfacePsoriasis or inflammatory arthritis
"Clubbing," a painless increase in tissue around the ends of the fingers, or inversion of the nailLung diseases
Irregular red lines at the base of the nail foldLupus or connective tissue disease
Dark lines beneath the nailMelanoma

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