What Your Nails Reveal About Your Overall Health

Your fingernails are part of your life, but you may not think about them a ton unless you break one or spend time getting them done. Turns out, your fingernails can actually provide some clues about how healthy you are — yes, really. Let’s take a look to understand the signals your fingernails may be trying to send about your health.

Many nail conditions can be the result of a poor diet and a lack of nutritionally dense foods, physician Dr. Monisha Bhanote tells SheKnows. “However, there are other signs that may indicate to something other than that,” she explains. Here are a few things to look out for.

Pitted or rippled nails

Are your nails are pitted or rippled? Bhanote says this could be an early indicator of inflammatory arthritis or psoriasis.

White spots

Little white spots on the nails aren’t uncommon, physician Dr. Luiza Petre tells SheKnows. She notes that they could be caused by a bunch of different things, including fungal infection, allergic reaction, nail injury, vitamin deficiency or systemic disease.

“Very often, it is also a good indicator that a change in your diet is needed,” she says. “Increasing your intake of calcium and vitamin C can help decrease your chances of developing spots on the nails. But when those white spots are coupled with symptoms of illness, such as an infection or exposure to bacteria, then you may need to seek medical attention.”

Ridged nails

Bhanote says that ridges can be either vertical or horizontal. Vertical ridges can be just a normal variation unless they are also associated with discoloration, but they can also be noted in iron-deficiency anemia. “However, horizontal ridges may be indicative of kidney disease or a drug reaction,” she explains.

Yellow nails

Yellow nails aren’t just gross to look at, physician Dr. Richard Honaker tells SheKnows. He says this can indicate a few maladies, including fungal infections, but also liver disease or kidney disease.

Pale nail beds

If your nail beds are lighter than usual, it can be a sign of illnesses, including anemia, liver disease or congestive heart failure, says Bhanote.

Blueish nails

If your nails have a blue tinge, that may be a sign that you’re not getting enough oxygen, which can indicate lung disease or cardiovascular disease, Bhanote explains.

Dry, brittle or easily cracked nails

Nails like this can be a symptom of hypothyroidism or iron-deficiency anemia, says Bhanote. However, that may not be the only cause, she warns. This can also be seen when you are continually washing your hands (such as in health care providers, chefs, etc.),” she explains. “Protecting your hands with gloves and using lotions may
resolve the issue if there is not associated underlying illness.”

Dark blue or black pigment

This may be not a big deal, says Bhanote, but it can also be a warning sign. “If there is focal discoloration in one nail and it appears dark, it should be examined by a doctor immediately and possibly even biopsied,” she says. “This can be a deposition from melanocytes and it might range from being a benign entity, such as nevus to a more serious entity like melanoma.”

Weak or soft nails

If your nails aren’t as strong as you’d like, Petre says this may be a sign of a nutritional deficiency, particularly in the area of protein. “To strengthen the structure of your nails, eat healthy foods that can increase keratin levels, including meat, eggs, quinoa, beans or other protein-rich foods — about 6 ounces per day,” she suggests.

Puffy nail fold

Your nail fold is the area between your nail bed and the soft tissue of your finger. If this looks swollen or puffy, says Bhanote, it could indicate a connective tissue disorder, lupus other autoimmune diseases or an infection.

As always, when in doubt, seek a doctor’s input. Some nail conditions are simply cosmetic imperfections, but others can indicate that you may need medical attention, says Petre. If you are worried, don’t hesitate to go see your doctor, who can assess your nails and determine if treatment is warranted. Make sure you take off your nail polish before you go, though!

A version of this story was published February 2019.

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