Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on April 26, 2022
Nails and Health: Read the Signs

Nails and Health: Read the Signs

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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.

Pale Nails

Pale Nails

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White nails, also known as leukonychia, describes fingernails that are partially or completely white in color. The white color could be the result of several things such as trauma, anemia, dietary deficiencies, heart or kidney disease, or even poisoning.

 

White Nails

White Nails

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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.

Yellow Nails

Yellow Nails

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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.

Bluish Nails

Bluish Nails

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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.

Rippled Nails

Rippled Nails

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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. 

Cracked or Split Nails

Cracked or Split Nails

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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.

Puffy Nail Fold

Puffy Nail Fold

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Chronic paronychia is a condition that causes inflammation, redness, tenderness, and swelling of the skin folds and tissues surrounding the nails. It is usually the result of irritants or allergens but it can be caused by the fungus Candida albicans, other infections or psoriasis. It can usually be treated with topical steroids.
 

Dark Lines Beneath the Nail

Dark Lines Beneath the Nail

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This nail discoloration is called a melanonychia and is caused by the pigment melanin. There are several possible causes including skin cancer, infection or injury.

Gnawed Nails

Gnawed Nails

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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.

Nails Are Only Part of the Puzzle

Nails Are Only Part of the Puzzle

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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 your doctor or a dermatologist.

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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.

National Library of Medicine

DermNet NZ

American Academy of Family Physicians

Merck Manual

American Osteopathic College of Dermatology