5 Ways Your Hands Are Telling You That Your Heart's in Trouble

These warning signs could mean your heart is in real danger.

It's easy to overlook issues with your hands—they may be useful, but they're not exactly vital organs. If you're someone who doesn't pay much attention to these appendages, though, you may want to start. Whether there's an issue with your nails, fingers, palms, or beyond, your hands can display symptoms that serve as serious warnings signs of heart trouble. Read on to learn what you should watch out for in your hands, and what it could mean for your heart.

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Painful lumps in fingers

close up of fingertips with long nails
DVKi / Shutterstock

If you've developed hard, painful lumps in your fingers, don't ignore them. These bumps are known as Osler's nodes and could be a sign of infectious endocarditis—a potentially life-threatening inflammation of your heart's chambers or blood vessels. Endocarditis is typically caused by an infection when bacteria enters your body, spreads through your bloodstream, and attaches to weak areas of the heart. If left untreated, endocarditis can permanently damage heart valves.

Geeta Yadav, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, says, "Osler's nodes form due to an inflammation of the blood vessels in the area, which then causes a bacterial infection in the dermis, leading to more inflammation. A skin biopsy may help in diagnosis, but it's best to work with a cardiologist to confirm."

Osler's nodes can last for a couple of hours to several days, and they tend to clear up on their own. However, even if the lumps go away, you should visit your doctor as soon as possible to determine if you have endocarditis and require treatment. Antibiotics can usually treat the infection, but surgery may be necessary in some cases.

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Red or purple lines under fingernails

Closed Hand with Fingernails Facing Up

The majority of us see lines under our fingernails and think nothing of it. But red or purple lines below your nails—known as splinter hemorrhaging—could be a sign of heart disease or infection, according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Travel Medicine. So if you have lines under your nails and other symptoms, including fever or irregular heartbeat, see a doctor immediately, as these could be signs of heart disease.

Yadav explains, "If you have many splinter hemorrhages, it could be an indication of something serious. In the case of heart disease, it's believed that splinter hemorrhages form because of clumps of bacteria traveling through the small blood vessels of the nail bed. This weakens those vessels and makes them more susceptible to hemorrhaging."


patients with big fingertips, clubbing
kris4to / Shutterstock

Another sign that your fingers might indicate heart problems is if you experience "clubbing," a condition characterized by swollen fingertips and downward-curving fingernails. Clubbing is often caused by heart disease or an infection of the heart's chambers.

"Clubbing [of the fingernails] refers to an angle of over 180 degrees and it is normally 160 degrees in formal nails," explains Beth Goldstein, MD, a dermatologist and associate professor of dermatology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "This type of anatomy can be present from birth, but is most commonly seen with osteoarthritis. If it occurs due to heart disease it usually starts in the thumb and index fingers." If you experience clubbing, visit your healthcare provider to determine if you have a heart condition that requires treatment.

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Waxy lumps on hands

Hands Clutching Heart

Nodules of systemic amyloidosis appear as smooth, waxy lumps on your skin, often on the hands. These lumps are caused by a build-up of protein deposits in the heart, which can interfere with heart function. The resulting condition is referred to as "stiff heart syndrome," because these protein deposits can function in place of the heart muscle, affecting heart signaling and causing irregular heartbeats.

According to the Mayo Clinic, amyloidosis inhibits the ability of your heart's chambers to fill with blood between beats. This results in less blood being pumped throughout the body, possibly resulting in waxy lumps on the hands. Symptoms of amyloidosis could mean your heart is in life-threatening danger, so book an appointment with your doctor immediately if you experience this symptom.

Discoloration on palms

close up of palm with hand held out
Emanuele Colombo / Shutterstock

Spotty red or brownish discoloration on your palms (also known as "Janeway lesions") could spell trouble for your heart. This symptom is another common sign of a bacterial infection in your heart or surrounding blood vessels. The discolored spots are painless and typically go away on their own within a few days or weeks, but this doesn't mean you should ignore the issue. If you notice these discolorations on your palms, see your doctor to determine if you have a heart infection that necessitates antibiotics or other treatment.

Ultimately, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to heart health. Jennifer Lewey, MD, MPH, volunteer expert for the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women Movement, advises, "Heart disease means making smart choices now that will pay off the rest of your life. It's imperative for your health to connect with a health care professional and have regular wellness exams. Talk to your doctor about your diet, lifestyle, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate, blood sugar, and body mass index."

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Adam Meyer
Adam is a health writer, certified holistic nutritionist, and 100% plant-based athlete. Read more
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