What do your nails say about your health?
A person's nails can say a lot about the state of their health.
Nail abnormalities, in most cases, are not serious and can be easily treated. In other cases, a health condition that may need medical attention and treatment might be the cause.
In this article, we give a list of nail abnormalities along with their potential causes and pictures. We also discuss how to take care of the nails and when to see a doctor.
List of nail abnormalities: Causes and symptoms
Vertical ridges and brittle patches can develop due to aging or minor injuries. Other abnormalities, such as discoloration, spots, and nail separation, may develop as a result of infections, injuries, or some medications.
Otherwise, trauma to the nail may lead to abnormalities that can result in discoloration, spots, or changes to the nail.
Changes in or around the fingernails and toenails can have many other causes, which we discuss below:
Cracked or split nails
Cracked or split nails are dry and brittle with possible cracks or splits. If someone's nails are easily damaged, this can be a sign of malnutrition or a skin disorder.
Nails also naturally become more brittle as people grow older.
Lifestyle factors can also contribute, such as working with the hands or having the hands in water for long periods of time.
Cracked or split nails may also be a sign of:
- thyroid disease
- fungal infections
White spots on nails (leukonychia)
Non-uniform white spots and lines on the nails are characteristics of leukonychia.
These spots are harmless and minor trauma to the nail is usually the cause. Sometimes, especially when ongoing, they can be the result of:
- nutritional deficiencies
- metabolic conditions
- systemic diseases
- side effects of drugs
Beau's lines are depressions across the fingernail. They may be a sign of:
Transverse white lines on the nails are called Mees' lines.
Spoon-shaped nails (koilonychia)
Koilonychia is characterized by fingernails that are spoon-shaped, with raised ridges and a scooped out depression.
Koilonychia may be a sign of:
Small depressions and little pits in the nail is called pitting.
These changes in a person's nails are often the result of:
- systemic diseases
Image credit: James Heilman, MD, (2013 March 22).
Clubbing is a thickening and curving around the fingertips. Clubbed nails can take years to develop.
Low blood oxygen levels can cause of nail clubbing. Reasons for this deficiency include:
Bluish nails have a blue or blue-like tint due to not enough oxygen in the body.
This can be the result of:
- lung problems
- heart or circulation problems
Image credit: Copperkettle, (2012, September 9)
Onycholysis is a white discoloration of the nails that happens when the nail plate and the nail bed separate.
Causes of onycholysis may include:
- injury to the nail
- certain nail products
- thyroid disease
Image credit: C3f59, (2013 May 31).
A greenish-black color to the nail is the primary feature of paronychia. It is usually a sign of a bacterial nail infection.
Having a dark band on each nail is characteristic of Terry's nails.
Terry's nails can be the result of:
- liver failure
- congestive heart failure
Ram's horn nails
Image credit: Drgnu23, (2004, October 31).
Ram's horn nails are thickening and overgrowth of the nails.
Ram's horn nails may be the sign of:
- genetics, as this condition runs in families
- circulatory issues
Yellow nail syndrome
People with yellow nail syndrome have nails that are yellow, thicker than usual, and do not grow as fast as healthy nails.
Yellow nail syndrome can be the result of:
People can have gnawed nails when they bite their nails consistently for a long period of time. Compulsive nail biting or picking is sometimes linked to:
People's nails can turn pale or light in color if they have a nutritional deficiency or a circulation problem that stops the blood from reaching the fingertips.
Nails that look very pale may be a sign of:
- iron deficiency anemia
- liver disease
- congestive heart failure
Image credit: Nickyay, 2016
Lindsay's nails are also known as half and half nails. One part of the nail is white while the other part is pink, red, or brown with a sharp line dividing the two halves.
People who have Lindsay's nails may have one of the following conditions:
- kidney disease
- renal issues
- recent organ transplants
Puffy nail fold
Image credit: Alison, 2011
Red and puffy skin around the nails is characteristic of puffy nail folds. The skin may appear inflamed.
People may notice puffy nail folds if they have:
- connective tissue disorders
When to see a doctor
Nail abnormalities can be a sign of different conditions that need medical attention and treatment.
Many nail abnormalities are harmless while some are signs of health conditions.
They are usually not the first signs but one of many symptoms, so people should pay attention to all of their body cues rather than just their nails.
Consult a doctor if you are worried about any of the following symptoms of nail abnormalities:
- changes in nail shape, such as curling or clubbing
- discoloration, such as dark or white streaks, or other changes in color
- changes in thickness, such as thinning or thickening of nails
- brittle nails
- pitted nails
- redness around nails
- swelling around nails
- pain around nails
- bleeding around nails
- nails that are separating from the skin
Preventing nail problems
Practicing good nail care may help prevent a range of nail abnormalities.
To prevent nail problems, people need to take care of their nails properly. Correct nail care practices include:
- avoiding biting or tearing nails
- avoiding pulling hangnails
- trimming nails after bathing when they are soft
- using good nail clippers or sharp manicure scissors
- keeping the nails dry and clean
- trimming nails straight, rounding the tips gently, and leaving the cuticles
- using moisturizers often
- avoiding long-term use of nail polish, nail polish removers, and artificial nails
- only visiting professional nail technicians at certified salons for professional manicures and pedicures
Pay attention to any changes or problems, and seek medical attention when needed.
Nail abnormalities can come in many forms, and the ones described here are just some signs and types of abnormalities a person may experience.
To determine the reason behind a nail abnormality, people should visit a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.