Your fingernails: what do they reveal about your health?

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Originally published in Mayo Clinic Health Letter, October 1991 in its "Healthy Answers Newsletter"

Take a look at your fingernails. Are they strong and healthy-looking? Or do you see ridges or areas of unusual color or shape? The condition of your nails may offer clues to your general health. Illnesses can cause changes in your nails that your doctor can use to develop a diagnosis.

Here are fingernail disorders that may be linked with illnesses:

Beau's lines -- Indentations that run across your nail. This can appear when growth at the nail root (matrix) is interrupted by severe illness such as a heart attack, measles, pneumonia, or by fever.

Clubbing -- Your fingertips widen and become round. Nails curve around your fingertips. This can be caused by enlargement in the connective tissue as compensation for a chronic lack of oxygen. Lung disease is present in 80 percent of people who have clubbed fingers. Also may appear in heart disease or cancer.

Half-and-Half (Lindsay's nails) -- Look for an arc of brownish discoloration. May appear in a small percentage of people who have kidney failure.

Mee's lines -- White lines that run across your nail, following the shape of the nail "moon." Arsenic poisoning is the cause.

Onycholysis (ON-i-ko-LY-sis) -- The nail separates from the nail bed. Most of the time, this problem is associated with physical injury (trauma), psoriasis, drug reactions, fungal disease or contact dermatitis from using nail hardeners. Sometimes onycholysis is related to an over- or under-active thyroid gland, iron deficiency anemia or syphilis.

Pitting -- Small pits or depressions. Most common nail problem seen in 25 percent to 50 percent of people with psoriasis.

Spoon nails -- Soft nails that look scooped out. Depression is usually large enough to hold a drop of liquid. Often indicates iron deficiency anemia. Your nail looks opaque and white, but the nail tip has a dark pink to brown band. May accompany cirrhosis, congestive heart failure, adult-onset diabetes, cancer or aging.

Vertical ridges -- Narrow ridges that run the length of your nails. May appear in adulthood and become more obvious as you age. Also may accompany kidney failure.

Yellow nail syndrome -- One or more nails turn yellow or green. Nails grow more slowly, and the cuticle and "moon" disappear. May be associated with swelling of the hands and feet, or a variety of respiratory diseases such as chronic bronchitis.

Need help with any health issue?

For information on what supplements to take to improve these conditions, send Dr. Xianti Hoo, Ph.D. an email or call  928.639.4574. Office hours are Mon. - Fri. from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (P.S.T).



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