Man gathering pile of chips at roulette table
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Nails and Health: Read the Signs

Did you know your nails can reveal clues to your overall health? A touch of white here, a rosy tinge there, or some rippling or bumps may be a sign of disease in the body. Problems in the liver, lungs, and heart can show up in your nails. Keep reading to learn what secrets your nails might reveal.

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Pale fingernail beds on woman's hand
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Pale Nails

Very pale nails can sometimes be a sign of serious illness, such as:

  • Anemia
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Liver disease
  • Malnutrition

 

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Fingernail beds that are almost completely white
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White Nails

If the nails are mostly white with darker rims, this can indicate liver problems, such as hepatitis. In this image, you can see the fingers are also jaundiced, another sign of liver trouble.

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Yellow fingernails on a woman's hand
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Yellow Nails

One of the most common causes of yellow nails is a fungal infection. As the infection worsens, the nail bed may retract, and nails may thicken and crumble. In rare cases, yellow nails can indicate a more serious condition such as severe thyroid disease, lung disease, diabetes or psoriasis.

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Essential acrocyanosis of the hands
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Bluish Nails

Nails with a bluish tint can mean the body isn't getting enough oxygen. This could indicate a lung problem, such as emphysema. Some heart problems can be associated with bluish nails.

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fingernail pitting from psoriasis
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Rippled Nails

If the nail surface is rippled or pitted, this may be an early sign of psoriasis or inflammatory arthritis. Discoloration of the nail is common; the skin under the nail can seem reddish-brown. 

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Split fingernail
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Cracked or Split Nails

Dry, brittle nails that frequently crack or split have been linked to thyroid disease. Cracking or splitting combined with a yellowish hue is more likely due to a fungal infection.

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Inflammation of the nail fold
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Puffy Nail Fold

If the skin around the nail appears red and puffy, this is known as inflammation of the nail fold. It may be the result of lupus or another connective tissue disorder. Infection can also cause redness and inflammation of the nail fold.

 

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Dark lines beneath the nail
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Dark Lines Beneath the Nail

Dark lines beneath the nail should be investigated as soon as possible. They are sometimes caused by melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer.

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Bitten fingernails
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Gnawed Nails

Biting your nails may be nothing more than an old habit, but in some cases it's a sign of persistent anxiety that could benefit from treatment. Nail biting or picking has also been linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder. If you can't stop, it's worth discussing with your doctor.

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Close-up of a woman's hand touching her feet
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Nails Are Only Part of the Puzzle

Though nail changes accompany many conditions, these changes are rarely the first sign. And many nail abnormalities are harmless -- not everyone with white nails has hepatitis. If you're concerned about the appearance of your nails, see a dermatologist.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 04/18/2016 Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on April 18, 2016

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

(1)    John Howard / Digital Vision / Getty Images
(2)    Fitzpatrick’s Color Atlas & Synopsis of Clinical Dermatology; Klaus Wolff, Richard Allen Johnson, Dick Suurmond; Copyright 2005, 2001, 1997, 1993 by The McGraw-Hill Companies. All Rights reserved.
(3)    Copyright Interactive Medical Media LLC
(4)    Copyright Interactive Medical Media LLC
(5)    Copyright © ISM / Phototake -- All rights reserved.
(6)    Copyright © Pulse Picture Library/CMP Images / Phototake -- All rights reserved.
(7)    Copyright Interactive Medical Media LLC
(8)    Fitzpatrick’s Color Atlas & Synopsis of Clinical Dermatology; Klaus Wolff, Richard Allen Johnson, Dick Suurmond; Copyright 2005, 2001, 1997, 1993 by The McGraw-Hill Companies. All Rights reserved.
(9)    Fitzpatrick’s Color Atlas & Synopsis of Clinical Dermatology”; Klaus Wolff, Richard Allen Johnson, Dick Suurmond; Copyright 2005, 2001, 1997, 1993 by The McGraw-Hill Companies. All Rights reserved.
(10)  Copyright Interactive Medical Media LLC
(11)  Glowimages / Getty Images

REFERENCES:

American Academy of Dermatology.
American Family Physician.
Christine Laine, MD, MPH, senior deputy editor, Annals of Internal Medicine; spokesman, American College of Physicians.
Joshua Fox, MD, director, Advanced Dermatology; spokesman, American Academy of Dermatology.
Mount Sinai Medical Center.
National Skin Centre.
Tamara Lior, MD, dermatologist, Cleveland Clinic Florida.

Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on April 18, 2016

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.