Nails are often regarded as a purely aesthetic feature, and the $768 million spent annually on nail polish (in the U.S. alone) can attest to that.1 Yet, your nails are far more than a platform for bright colors and nail art.
The shape, texture, and color of your natural nails act as a window into your body, and while some nail symptoms are harmless, others can be indicative of chronic diseases, including cancer. As noted by the American Academy of Dermatology
“Nails often reflect our general state of health. Changes in the nail, such as discoloration or thickening, can signal health problems including liver and kidney diseases, heart and lung conditions, anemia, and diabetes.”
Even the growth rate of your nails may give clues about your underlying health. Healthy nails grow, on average 3.5 millimeters (mm) a month, but this is influenced by your nutritional status, medications, trauma, chronic disease, and the aging process itself.3
If you notice any significant changes in your nails, including swelling, discolorations, or changes in shape or thickness, see a dermatologist right away. It could be nothing, or it could be due to an underlying condition (for instance, nail problems are more common in people with diabetes).
Below are 10 nail symptoms you might experience in your lifetime and what they mean for your health.
10 Nail Symptoms and What They Mean for Your Health
1. Yellow Nails
There are many reasons why your nails may yellow, such as aging, smoking, and use of nail polish and acrylic nails. If they are yellow, crumbly, and thick, it is very likely that a fungal infection is the underlying cause. Although rarely, conditions like thyroid disease, diabetes, respiratory disease, and psoriasis could also be to blame.
2. Dry, Cracked or Brittle Nails
Lifestyle factors play a significant role in this case, such as if you are exposed to chemicals, live in an area with low humidity, have your hands in water very often, or use nails polish remover on a regular basis.
Fungal infection and thyroid disease, especially hypothyroidism, may also be the causes of cracking and splitting. Brittle nails may result from deficiency in biotin or vitamins A and C.
Clubbing is described as enlargement of the fingertips, accompanied with the nail becoming curved downward. It can be related to low oxygen in the blood and lung disease as well as heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney disease, and AIDS.
4. White Spots
White spots on the nails are typically sign of nail trauma. They are usually not a big deal, and tend to fade away or grow out in a while on their own. In some instances, they may indicate a fungal infection.
5. Horizontal Ridges
According to John Anthony, M.D., a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio “This is typically the result of direct trauma to the nail or a more serious illness, in which case you’ll see it on more than one nail at a time … Your body is literally saying, ‘I’ve got better things to do than make nails’ and pauses their growth.”
Also known as Beau`s lines, horizontal ridges may also be result of uncontrolled diabetes, zinc deficiency, circulatory disease, or psoriasis. On the other hand, another type of horizontal line called Mees` lines may be due to malaria, leprosy, carbon monoxide poisoning, arsenic poisoning, and Hodgkin`s disease.
6. Vertical Ridges
Vertical ridges are most common in older individuals, as they are sign of aging and are not a cause for concern. In some cases, vertical ridges may be a sign of nutrient deficiency like deficiency in magnesium and vitamin B12.
7. Spoon Nails
If the nails curve upward at the edges, resembling a spoon, it is very likely that you are deficient in iron or suffer from heart disease or hypothyroidism.
Having multiple pits on the nails is typically a sign of psoriasis. “Typically, pitting occurs in around half of people with psoriasis and 80 percent of people with psoriatic arthritis,” Chen says. Nail pitting may be also caused by connective tissue disorders or alopecia areata, the disease that causes hair loss.
9. Dark Discolorations
If you notice black streaks and painful growth on the nail, consult a doctor right away as they may be due to melanoma.
10. White Nails with a Strip of Pink
If your nails are white with a strip of pink, it may indicate congestive heart failure, diabetes, kidney failure, or liver disease.
Simple Nail Care Tips
Eat a balanced, whole-food diet ( high in protein, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals)
Protect the nails from excessive exposure to water or chemicals
Minimize the use of nail polish and artificial nails
Keep the nails trimmed relatively short
Rub some coconut oil onto the nails on a regular basis to keep them moisturized.