Most of us have complained at one time or another about our fingernails peeling or feeling brittle, preventing us from maintaining a sensible manicure. But did you know that in addition to these common complaints, fingernail problems can be indicators of far more serious health concerns? Rippling, bumps or discoloration can be signs of disease, so it’s a good idea to know what to look out for. Before you panic, however, consider that none of these symptoms is tied to a single diagnosis — so contact a doctor if you have any cause for concern.

1. White Nails

Normally, most people have a white half-moon shape at the base of each nail called the lunula. If you notice that your lunula extends almost the entire length of the nail with just a narrow band of color at the top, that’s called leukonychia — and it could be a sign of cirrhosis, chronic renal failure or congestive heart failure. On the other hand, having mostly white nails can also be attributed to aging, making this condition irritatingly misleading.

2. Yellow Nails

Most yellow nails are caused by fungal infections, which are easily treated using over-the-counter remedies. But if you rule out fungus or a heavy smoking habit, yellow nails can also indicate severe thyroid disease, lung disease, diabetes or psoriasis.

3. Blue Nails

Typically, if your nails have a bluish tint, it’s a sign that your body isn’t getting enough oxygen. Emphysema and some heart problems can cause this discoloration, or it could be Wilson’s disease, a rare genetic disorder. More recently, blue nails have also become a common marker for COVID-19.

4. Lines

If you notice a dark-colored streak that runs the length of the nail that can’t be attributed to injury or trauma to the nail bed, it could be a sign of melanoma or skin cancer. This is one nail condition to always get checked out, because unlike other medical issues, melanoma doesn’t usually cause any other noticeable symptoms.

5. Rippling or Pitting

If your nail surface has ripples or “pits” (little circular dents) running vertically from the cuticle to the tip, this may be an early sign of psoriasis or inflammatory arthritis.

6. “Spoon” Nails

Spoon nails are soft nails that turn up around the edges, often appearing as if the center of the nail bed has been scooped out. Also called koilonychia, this is usually a sign of an iron issue — either you aren’t getting enough (anemia), or you’re storing too much (hemochromatosis). 

7. Clubbed Nails

Nail clubbing happens when the tip of the nail gets bigger and curves around the fingertips. According to the Mayo Clinic, clubbing can be caused by low oxygen in the blood, lung disease, heart problems, liver cirrhosis or gastrointestinal problems.

8. “Beau’s Lines”

An indented horizontal line across your nail could be a sign that your body suffered from a serious illness or injury that caused the nail to temporarily stop growing. It can also be a marker for uncontrolled diabetes, the result of cancer treatment or Raynaud’s disease.

If You’re Concerned

Our nails, like our hair and skin, are impacted by diet, environmental conditions and even our hydration levels. So while fingernail problems can indicate underlying health issues, nails are very rarely used as a diagnostic tool without the presence of other symptoms. If you find that your nails have discoloration or are misshapen, it’s a good idea to be seen by a doctor as a precaution. 

Top image: © Marko Skrbic from Getty Images Signature, via Canva.com


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