Curved or ingrown nails can sometimes indicate a health condition that needs attention, such as iron deficiency anemia. Without treatment, ingrown nails can sometimes increase the risk of an infection.
It may be a good idea to consult a doctor if changes to the nails accompany other symptoms.
In this article, we describe types of nail curving and other nail changes that may need monitoring. We also explore some possible causes.
Some or most of the nail may curve outward, away from the nail bed. For example, a person may have one of the below conditions.
With spoon nails, the nails become so soft and curved that they can hold a droplet of water. Doctors often refer to this as koilonychia.
This issue may occur in newborns, but it may resolve without needing treatment. In other cases, and in people of other ages, koilonychia can indicate health issues, such as iron-deficiency anemia.
Nails that curve at the tips
This involves the thickening of the tissue underneath the nail, causing the fingertips to become rounded and the nails to curve over them.
Doctors believe this results from increased blood flow to the fingertips. It can run in families and may be harmless, but it may be due to a health condition, especially if it occurs later in life.
Nails that curve around the sides
Nails that curve far inward at the sides are called ingrown nails. This condition may affect the toenails and be due to wearing shoes that are too tight, particularly in the toe box.
Ingrown nails may also result from cutting the nails improperly. In some cases, treatment may involve removing part or all of the nail.
Other nail issues
The nails may become crumbly or brittle due to:
Small dents and pits may also appear in the nails, which may result from:
Curving of the nails sometimes stems from an underlying health issue. This may be temporary, such as a fungal infection, or chronic, such as psoriasis. We explain some of the common causes below.
Iron deficiency anemia
Iron helps maintain healthy cells, skin, hair, and nails, while an iron deficiency may be due to:
- an underlying health issue
- heavy periods
- a diet low in iron
Some common symptoms besides curved nails may include:
- a rapid heartbeat
- a sensation of pounding in the ears
- hair loss
Treatment for iron deficiency anemia may involve:
- Eating more iron-rich foods: These include beef, pork, lamb, liver, broccoli, kale, collard greens, pinto beans, and black-eyed peas.
- Taking a high-dose supplement: A doctor can recommend or prescribe a sufficiently high dosage.
- Intravenous supplementation: A healthcare professional may recommend this for people who are unable to pass iron through their gastrointestinal tract.
About 90% of people with psoriasis develop the condition on their nails at some point. Besides curving, symptoms may include thickening and shallow or deep holes in the nail.
Treatment may involve:
- topical creams or ointments
- light therapy
- oral medications
As a result, the fingers and toes may:
- turn pale or white, then bluish
- feel numb, cold, or painful
- throb, burn, tingle, or feel numb
Treatment for Raynaud’s may involve managing stress or taking medication, or rarely, undergoing surgery. However, there is no cure.
This genetic disorder causes the body to absorb too much iron from the diet. While a person typically has around 1 gram (g) of iron in their body at any time, this condition can cause a buildup of 5 grams or more.
Besides curved nails, symptoms may include:
- hair loss
- skin discoloration
- weight loss
- early menopause
- joint pain
- abdominal pain
- liver dysfunction
- sexual dysfunction
- weakness and lethargy
Hemochromatosis can damage the liver, heart, and pancreas. Without treatment, people may show signs of iron toxicity in their
Management involves the regular removal of blood until iron levels are within a normal range.
Systemic lupus erythematosus
This chronic disease can cause trigger inflammation and pain in any area of the body. About 1.5 million people in the United States have a form of lupus, while systemic lupus erythematosus is the
Symptoms of this autoimmune disorder can flare up and recede. Beyond curvature of the nails, they can include:
- joint swelling or pain
- sensitivity to sunlight or fluorescent light
- lung problems
Treatment generally focuses on suppressing the immune system with medications.
It may be worth speaking with a doctor about persistent, noticeable changes to the nails. It is especially crucial for a person to consult with a healthcare professional if other symptoms are present.
A doctor will identify the underlying issue and advise on the best course of treatment.
Changes to the nails, such as curving, sometimes result from an underlying health issue requiring treatment. However, these changes are not always a cause for concern.
If curving of the nails occurs with other symptoms, a person should seek medical treatment.