9 Warnings Your Nails Send You About Your Health

Several signs and symptoms related to any disease indicate an ongoing pathology, which may be localized or generalized. For example, an aching joint indicates a disease… Melisa Silver - March 6, 2016

Several signs and symptoms related to any disease indicate an ongoing pathology, which may be localized or generalized. For example, an aching joint indicates a disease limited to that area. Similarly, a stomach ache also indicates a localized pathology. A general symptom such as headache, can be a hint towards a vast set of diseases, ranging from simple stress to lethal cancer. Systemic involvement by diseases such as hypertension, acidosis, etc. may also produce a headache. However, very few among us might be aware of nail changes that a disease can produce as symptoms.

Our nails form alive, yet hard sclerotic parts of our body, and are constituents of the external defense mechanism. Ever wondered what could cause the nails to change their appearance or consistency? What body system might be directing the nails to change their normal anatomy?

Read out the rest of the post to learn about various nail symptoms and their possible causes.


1. Nail pitting

We usually tend to ignore slightly depressed points or you may call them “pits” on the nail surface. Well, after reading this segment, it is likely that you may not overlook such small changes the next time you discover it. “Ice-pick-like” depressions are a feature of psoriasis in most cases. If not so, then it may be associated with an autoimmune disease called Reiter’s syndrome (a type of arthritis caused due to bacterial infection), or alopecia areata. So anytime you notice such nail changes, you know well that you immediately need to see your doctor.


2. Loose nails

Often when you hurt your nail, it comes off loose easily. However, if at any time the same situation occurs without any trauma, one of the following possible issues may be suspected:

  • It could be a sign of psoriasis
  • It could be due to build-up of warts around the nail
  • It could be a part of amyloidosis
  • It could be an outcome of chronic smoking
  • The nail could possibly be affected by fungus
  • Due to excessive manicure
  • Loose nails are also caused by an over-reactive thyroid


3. Spoon-shaped nails

If your nail turns inwards and becomes indented, the condition is termed ‘koilonychia‘. It happens commonly in blood disorders, such as iron deficiency anemia and hemochromatosis. Besides this, spoon-shaped nails could also indicate an underlying Raynaud’s disease (a disease in which blood supply to the finger and toenails is interrupted) or lupus erythematosus (an autoimmune disease in which antibodies are produced against the host’s body tissues)


4. A change in the nail color

Have you ever noticed the original color of your nails? Well, the normal nail color varies amongst different individuals. Some may have pink nails, some may have rather paler color, while others may have dark or white nails by nature. However, if the original color of the nail changes, it becomes a matter of concern. Pail nails simply indicate anemia. Yellow nails are a sign of jaundice and fungal infection.

There is a term known as ‘Terry’s nails‘. It is said to occur when the nail body turns white or pale, whereas its tip becomes reddened. Terry’s nails can be an important sign of many medical conditions including diabetes, kidney failure, liver cirrhosis or failure, heart failure, iron deficiency anemia, or malnutrition. Such a double-colored nail can also be a side effect of chemotherapy.


5. Grooves on the nails

Horizontal lines on the fingernail surface are known as “Beau’s lines“, and can occur as a part of chemotherapy, due to any chronic illness, an old injury, or in the setting of Raynaud’s disease, when the fingertips have been exposed to cold temperature for long periods of time.


6. Clubbing

When the fingernails tend to undergo clubbing, they actually indicate something serious and chronic going on inside the body. Clubbing of nails is said to happen when the underlying tissue bed thickens and the fingertips grow rounded. The normal angle between the nail bed and the nail disappears.

When such a thing happens, the reason could likely be some long-term disease such as liver cirrhosis, stomach cancer, lung ailments (especially those in which the host has been deprived of optimum oxygen consumption since long), heart ailments (in which there is a ventilation-perfusion mismatch), polycythemia (when the blood becomes thick in consistency due to an overload of R.B.Cs), or inflammatory bowel disease.


7. Dark lines

Dark vertical stripes (linear melanonychia) on the nails are at times naturally present in dark-skinned individuals. However, if it appears suddenly, it might indicate subungual melanoma. In this case, the dark stripes may change their color over time due to variations in pigmentation. Moreover, the surrounding nail fold is also likely to darken. Fortunately, in most cases of linear melanonychia, the underlying cause is negligible.


8. Red streaks

If you notice any red or brown streak developing under the surface of your nail, it could be a ‘splinter hemorrhage, which is actually the blood oozing out of a damaged underlying vessel. Splinter hemorrhages can occur due to nail trauma. It is also an important sign of endocarditis, lupus erythematosus and psoriasis.


9. Overgrown nails

Overgrown thickened nails are a common consequence of fungal infection. Moreover, they also form a symptom of reactive arthritis and psoriasis. A condition known as ‘onychogryphosis‘, in which the toenails grow excessively long and resemble a ram-horn, must not be confused with the thickened nail occurring due to fungal infection. The latter-mentioned scenario is of common occurrence in the old age group, in whom the nail overgrows as a response to long-term pressure.