12 Disease Signs — Found On Our Fingernails

You’ve likely had a health care provider check your blood pressure, pulse or listen to your heart. They can give indications about your overall health.

Here’s another health indicator that you may not be familiar with: Your fingernails! Changes in their appearance can be an indicator of a range of conditions.

If you notice a change in your fingernails, don’t panic. Just contact your health care provider and describe the change you see. Your provider can give you a recommendation for next steps.

Here are 12 disease symptoms that can show up on your fingernails:

 

White Nails

Your fingernails will naturally have white at the tips. However, if your whole nail is white or noticeably pale, this could be a sign of:

 

Pale Nails

This can be a sign of a serious illness such as:

  • Anemia
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Liver disease
  • Malnutrition

 

Yellow Nails

Nails often turn yellow after nail polish has been used for long periods of time. However, yellow nails can also be a sign of:

 

Blue Nails

If your fingernails have a blue tint, this could be a sign that your body isn’t getting enough oxygen. It could also be a side effect from a drug you are taking, or a sign of:

  • Lung issues (such as emphysema)
  • Heart problems
  • Excessive silver consumption
  • Bacterial infection of the nail
  • Wilson’s disease (a genetic condition that causes high levels of copper in the body)

 

Red Streaks in the Nail

This may be the result of several conditions, including:

  • Trauma
  • Psoriasis
  • Fungal infection
  • Heart valve infection
  • Blood vessel inflammation (vasculitis)

 

Dark Lines Beneath the Nail

If you notice dark lines that are about as wide as a pen’s ink cartridge, this could be a sign of melanoma. This is a dangerous type of skin cancer. If you notice this, see your health care provider promptly.

Other causes of dark lines beneath the nail are more common and not dangerous. These include moles, trauma and medication induced changes. It’s also common for people with darker skin types to have noncancerous dark lines under the nails.

 

Split or Cracked Nails

If your nails become brittle or if they split repeatedly, this could reveal:

  • Thyroid disease
  • Psoriasis
  • Repeated trauma, especially frequent contact with water (e.g. hand washing, dish washing, bathing, etc.)
  • Medication side effects

When the cracking or splitting is accompanied by a yellow color, the cause could be a fungal infection.


Nail Clubbing

This happens when the tips of your fingers enlarge a little and the nails curve over the fingertips. This usually takes years to happen. This could be a sign:

 

Puffy, Red Nail Fold

The nail fold is the skin at the base of the nail where your nail grows from; it’s often called the cuticle. If your nail fold is puffy, this is due to inflammation. The most common cause of nail fold inflammation is a skin infection from bacteria, viruses or yeast. Less commonly, this can happen because of lupus or other connective tissue disorders.

 

Ridges on the Nails

The direction of the ridges is important to notice. If ridges are parallel to your fingers, it may simply be a reflection of aging or chronic trauma, including repeat wet/dry cycles and contact with water. Ridges may reflect a lack of vitamins or poor nutrition.

If the ridges are across the nail, this could be a sign of:

  • Diabetes
  • Severe injury
  • Past illness or medication exposure

 

Rippled or Pitted Nails

Small pinpoint depressions of the surface of the nail often occur after trauma to the surface of the nail. Sometimes they occur in patients with particular types of hair loss and arthritis. They can also be associated with underlying skin disorders including:

  • Psoriasis
  • Eczema

 

Nail Lifting

This is when the surface of the nail (called the nail plate) separates from the underlying skin (called the nail bed). There are many causes of this including:

  • Medication side effects
  • Psoriasis
  • Fungal infection
  • Trauma
  • Pregnancy
  • Thyroid disease

 

Your Next Steps

If you notice one of these conditions on your fingernails, see your health care provider. Your provider can give you guidance about additional steps that may be needed to make an accurate diagnosis.

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Meet the Author

Katherine R. Garrity, MD is a dermatologist at Aurora Health Center in Summit, Wisconsin.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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