Did You Know #4: What Your Nails Tell about Your Health

Ever wondered why doctors check your nails every time you visit them? No, its NOT just about blood deficiencies or personal hygiene. Nails can actually tell a lot about a person’s good or bad health! Want to know? Read on!
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SHAPE AND CONTOUR

1. Frequently cracking, brittle nails.
These can be caused by several wrong working habits, including excessive exposure to water or chemicals, dish-washing and even excessive nail polishing! If you are into one of these, all you have to do is use a good body lotion and petroleum jelly to maintain the health of your hands’ skin and nails. Also make sure that you eat enough of Vitamin C (citrus fruits, as always), Vitamin A (carrots, red meat etc.) and Biotin (egg yolks are the best source). A single cracking, yellow/white nail can indicate fungal infection. Hypothyroidism patients too, suffer from nail-cracking. They need to consult their physician for the holistic treatment of their condition.

2. Spoon nails.
Nails that are flat or concave (curved upwards at the edges), indicate iron deficiency anemia. On the other side, the cause can also be haemochromatosis (excess iron absorption). So, a doctor will likely advice a CBC (Complete Blood Count) report first when you show this to them. Other possible rare causes of spoon nails include heart disease and hypothyroidism.
Remedy – Include/increase these in the diet –
For veggies – Dates, milk, bananas, currants, spinach, reddish, carrots, citrus fruits etc.
For non-veggies – red meat, eggs.

3. Clubbed nails.

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Nail clubbing

Nails curved downwards (convex) at the edge with enlarged fingertips are called clubbed nails. These are caused by accumulation of fluids under the nailbeds, and indicate serious underlying illness in one or more internal organs, most commonly the heart or lungs. However, nails of some people may be a bit curved by birth, or by conditions like chronic alcoholism. To differentiate, a simple test known as Schamroth’s sign is used; that you can perform yourself too! Here’s how –

Schamroth’s test
A normal pair of thumbnails, when held apposed to each other, leaves a lozenge-shaped cavity between them. In case of clubbed thumbnails, this cavity becomes largely diminished.

4. Pitted or dented nails.
This can be an alarm sign of psoriasis, eczema and some serious connective tissue disorders, for which you should be consulting a physician only.

5. Black, rapidly spreading outgrowths on the nails.
These should not be neglected at any cost, as they can be a melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer.

COLOR

1. Pale nails.
This indicates anemia caused by low haemoglobin levels in the blood (Yes, anemia may arise with normal haemoglobin levels too! More on it someday later). Less common but causes include heart and liver disorders.
Remedial diet advice is the same as for spoon nails.

2. Yellow nail(s).

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Yellow nails due to fungal infection

Mostly, a single yellowed nail indicates fungal infection. This condition can be with or without any pain and pus. So if you work in moist or unhygienic conditions, or had had an injury on that nails some days ago, you should go to a practitioner for this. On the contrary, it may just be that dark nail paint or turmeric powder from the kitchen, which stained your nail, that should go away by applying some good nail paint remover. A cause of real concern, however, is when all the nails, the skin and eyes too,are yellowed. It indicates hepatitis (liver inflammation) and requires urgent medical attention.
Remedies – Fungal infections of nails can be very varied and tricky; and there’s no one-size-fits-all medicine for them. We would recommend going by the physician’s advice and taking Berberis aristata (Daruhaldi) powder topically and orally as an adjunct. Also, in jaundice, you can do your part by drinking sugarcane juice, or even better, tinospora (Guduch) juice, everyday.

3. Blueish nails

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Cyanotic nails due to deficient oxygen in blood

It means deficient oxygen in the blood. The patient will be showing other respiratory symptoms as well here. The doctor can confirm this by placing a small device called Pulse-oximeter on the patient’s fingertip.
This condition is generally beyond home remedies, and should be handled by a qualified professional.

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A pulse-oximeter in action

4. White nails with a thin pink strip at the edge.

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Terry's nails

Called Terry’s nails in medicine, this may be a normal ageing sign in some, while in others, it can be a sign of disorder, mostly of diabetes, liver cirrhosis, kidney disease or an impending congestive heart failure. As in all the above cases, it has to be correlated with the other signs and symptoms for actual diagnosis.

5. Half white half red / brown nails.
Called Lindsey’s half and half nails, nails that are white in the proximal half and red/brown in the distal half indicate increased urea levels in the blood, associated mostly with chronic renal failure.

6. White nails.
These may be caused due to low albumin levels in blood, as in liver cirrhosis; or due to some drugs causing that side effect.

OTHER VISIBLE FEATURES

1. White spots

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White spot on the nail

Commonly caused by injury, they should just be allowed to grow and shed away by themselves. (Your nails grow from base towards the fingertip at speed of about 3 mm per month, so you should notice the spot having moved upwards in a month. If it doesn’t then a fungal infection may be suspected.

3. Dark vertical line or spot.

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A dark spot caused by bleeding in the nailbed

Commonly, this is a mole or small bleeding in the nail bed, that is harmless and often found in dark-skinned people. But, if it starts growing fast, it could be a melanoma, the potentially fatal skin cancer, and a doctor’s consultation should be taken immediately.

2. Horizontal ridges and/or discolorations
The lighter reason, once again, is trauma. The serious variants have two major forms –

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Beau's lines

(i) Ridges (Beau’s lines) – caused by uncontrolled diabetes, psoriasis and severe zinc deficiency amongst other reasons. These form when the body restarts nail formation process after temporarily stopping to conserve resources at a sudden disease onset. So, they become helpful to identify when the illness started or was at its peak.

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Mee's lines

(ii) White lines (Mee’s lines) – caused by arsenic / carbon monoxide poisoning, leprosy, malaria and other conditions.

3. Vertical ridges
These are normally present in all humans, and tend to somewhat thicken with age; but a rapid change may be caused due to nutritional deficiencies, specifically Vit. B12 and Magnesium. Some diseases like Lichen planus too, cause such ridges as secondary signs of manifestation.

BONUS TRIVIA

Nails are immensely useful in forensics for several reasons –
1. The DNA can very easily be extracted from the nails, making it the preferred sampling tissue for DNA tests.
2. Nails are among the longest lasting tissues in the body after death, second only to bones.
3. Almost everything that you eat, right from an arsenic based poison to those excessively sugary sweets, leaves its mark on your nails. So your foot’s thumbnail is like the logbook of your diet for the last six months.
4. Even the DNAs of viruses that previously infected you can be found in the nails!

So that’s all for today folks!
Do let me know how you used this info.
Till then…
Stay healthy, stay happy!

About the Author – Read more about Dr. Rajandekar here.

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