17 Things Your Nails Can Tell You About Your Health

Those little white marks are trying to tell you something.

17 Things Your Nails Can Tell You About Your Health

It may not seem like it, but a person’s nails can say a lot about their health. It’s true! A closer inspection at these tiny sheets of keratin can reveal everything from lung disease to allergies. Curious how you can use your fingernails and toenails as windows into your overall wellbeing? Keep reading to discover what your nails are trying to tell you about your general physical state.

Your thyroid isn’t functioning properly.

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Your dry, brittle nails may not be your favorite thing to look at, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), “thick, dry, and brittle [nails] with visible ridges” can be a sign of thyroid disease. So, before you focus on your aesthetic problem, be sure to rule out this serious health issue.

There’s something wrong with your lungs.

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If you’re worried there’s something wrong with your lungs, your nails could be your first step toward figuring it out. As researchers from York Hospital in Pennsylvania wrote in a paper in American Family Physician, clubbing of the nails—in which the tips of the fingers enlarge and the nails curve downward around the fingertips—”often suggests pulmonary disease.”

You have inflammatory bowel disease.

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Though clubbed nails can indicate a lung issue, there are other underlying conditions that can also trigger this abnormal nail growth. Per the same paper, inflammatory bowel disease can also result in clubbing of the nails, so make sure to get checked out for both bowel and lung issues if your nails are starting to look like upside-down spoons.

You have psoriasis.

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Though psoriasis is a skin condition, your fingernail health can sometimes tell you whether or not you have it. According to the AAD, some people with psoriasis develop nail psoriasis, in which there are tiny dents in the nails and white, yellow, or brown discoloration. If left untreated, this condition can “affect people’s ability to use their hands or walk,” so don’t ignore this symptom if you notice it.

You have skin cancer.

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Surprisingly enough, you can get melanoma under your nails. As the AAD points out, this specific type of skin cancer often manifests as “a brown or black band in the nail, often on the thumb or big toe of one’s dominant hand.” Since outcomes are better in the earlier stages of the disease, be sure to always keep an eye out for this type of discoloration.

There’s something wrong with your liver.

man on couch with stomach pain, stomach symptoms Shutterstock/Syda Productions

Conditions associated with the liver—like liver cirrhosis, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C—have all been known to cause fingernail health issues. One 2010 study published in The Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology compared 100 patients with liver issues to 100 healthy subjects and found that 68 percent of subjects with liver problems had nail changes, compared to just 35 percent of those in the control group. Specifically, nail fungus was the most common issue seen in liver disease patients, followed by horizontal ridges and brittleness.

You have diabetes.

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Over time, diabetes can cause a myriad of nail-related complications. As dermatologist Phoebe Rich, MD, wrote in a paper for Dermatologic Therapy, the blood sugar condition can lead to “nails that are yellow, thickened, and sometimes fragile, ridged, and brittle.” In addition, the doctor notes that periungual erythema—or reddening of the skin around the nails—is often “an early finding of diabetes.”

You’re anemic.

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People who are anemic don’t have enough healthy red blood cells, and therefore their organs and tissues don’t receive enough oxygen. In addition to extreme fatigue, one of the symptoms of this condition is extremely pale nails.

Your kidneys aren’t working properly.

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If your nails appear to be half red, pink, or brown, you could be having a problem with your kidneys. In a 2009 write-up of a chronic kidney disease case in the Canadian Medical Journal Association, doctors note that “half-and-half nail is an occasional but specific clinical finding in chronic renal failure.” As the doctors describe it, this condition is when 20 to 60 percent of the nail is “red, pink or brown [and] the rest of the nail has a dull, whitish, ground-glass appearance.”

You’re having heart problems.

older woman sits on bench clutching chest, what your indigestion means Shutterstock

If your nails are blue and it’s not because of bold polish choice you made, then you might want to get your ticker checked out. As dermatologist Katherine R. Garrity, MD, explained for Aurora Health Care, blue nails can indicate heart problems, as well as lung issues, bacterial infections, and Wilson’s disease (a rare genetic disorder that causes copper to accumulate in your vital organs, according to Mayo Clinic).

You have a skin infection.

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Are your nail folds looking a little too puffy and red? If so, you may have an infection that needs treating. “The most common cause of nail fold inflammation is a skin infection from bacteria, viruses, or yeast,” according to Garrity.

You’re malnourished.

Hands of malnourished older woman, signs from nails Shutterstock

Pale nails should always be noted. Why? According to Garrity, they can indicate malnutrition, in addition to other serious complications like congestive heart failure and liver disease. If you are over the age of 60, then you should pay especially close attention to your nails, as malnutrition, heart failure, and liver disease are all common issues for older individuals.

You have eczema.

black man itches arm, skin cancer facts 9nong / Shutterstock

Pompholyx eczema is a type of eczema that, according to the National Eczema Society, is categorized by “intensely itchy water blisters mostly affecting the sides of the fingers, the palms of the hands, and the soles of feet.” And, in some cases, it can also cause swelling of the nail folds and skin around the nails.

You have athlete’s foot.

Man Holding His Foot in Pain Aching Feet Shutterstock

Athlete’s foot actually refers to two conditions: foot fungus and fungal toenail infections. The latter, which is most often picked up when walking barefoot in a communal area like a locker room, is characterized by ragged, yellow toenails.

Dermatologist Pamela Ng, MD, explained to the Mayo Clinic that in patients with immunodeficiencies, these fungal infections can cause “breakdown of the skin and lead to conditions like cellulitis or foot ulcers.”

You have Raynaud’s.

Woman Holding Her Cold Hands Surprising Symptoms Shutterstock

If you notice “indentations that run across the nails”—called Beau’s lines, according to the Mayo Clinic—you could have Raynaud’s phenomenon, a condition in which blood supply to the extremities becomes limited in the face of stress or cold.

Talk to your doctor if you notice these lines on your fingernails, because, though there is no cure for Raynaud’s, there is medication that can help restore blood flow in severe cases.

You’re pregnant.

Pregnant Muslim Woman in Bed, women's health after 40 Shutterstock

During pregnancy the growth rate of nails is increased,” Rich noted in her paper. That’s because, as The Nemours Foundation explains, all those extra hormones coursing through your veins during pregnancy impact the strength and length of your nails.

You have an allergy.

South Asian man sneezes in park without covering mouth, etiquette over 40 Shutterstock

While many people believe that a calcium deficiency presents itself as those little white marks on your finger and toe nails, that’s not the case, according to Andrew Weil, MD, founder and director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona.

On his website, Weil explains that these marks, called leukonychia, are either a sign of an injury to the base of your nail (which could’ve happened up to six weeks prior), or they can also be the result of an allergic reaction to nail polish or nail hardeners. “It can take more than eight months for nails to grow out completely so the spots may be around for a while,” he notes. And for more things you’ve heard about your body that aren’t true, here are 40 Health Myths You Hear Every Day.

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