Fingernails, shaped nicely and well-manicured are a sign of beauty, and a set of healthy-looking nails is an indicator of good health.
Spend some time to take a close look at your fingernails. Do you see ridges, discoloration, breakages, different nail shapes or other things that seem unusual? If you do, you may have an underlying health condition that requires attention.
Your fingernails are made up of layers of a protein called keratin that grow from the base of the nail under the cuticle. Healthy fingernails are smooth, free of grooves or pits and uniform in colour and consistency. They should also be free of discoloration or spots.
Fingernails sometimes develop vertical ridges running from the cuticle to the tip of the nail or become more brittle, signs which become more prominent with age, but these are usually harmless. Sometimes white spots or lines appear due to injury, but are also harmless and eventually grow out.
Some medical conditions can change the appearance of your fingernails, but it usually takes a sharp eye to notice this, and appearance alone is not sufficient to do proper diagnosis. Your doctor will use fingernail information in addition to other information gathered to make a proper diagnosis.
Do consult your doctor if you notice any of the following changes in your fingernails:
- Brittle fingernails
- Bleeding, swelling or redness around the nails
- Pain around the fingernails
- Nail separating from the skin
- Changes in fingernail shape (curling or clubbing)
- Discoloration or changes in nail colour
- Thickening or thinning nails
The above nail changes can be caused by a variety of medical conditions, including some that are described below:
These are noticeable depressions that run across your fingernail. Often a sign of malnourishment, Beau’s lines can also be caused by:
- peripheral vascular disease – a blood circulation disorder
- measles, mumps, scarlet fever
- uncontrolled diabetes
- zinc deficiency
This is a condition where fingernails thicken and curve around the fingertips, which generally takes years. Clubbing could be due to insufficient oxygen in the blood and is associated with:
- cardiovascular disease
- pulmonary disease
- inflammatory bowel disease
- liver disease
Leukonychia (white spots)
Leukonychia is made up of sporadic spots on fingernails which are harmless in healthy individuals. They are usually the result of minor trauma, but in some cases, leukonychia is related to poor health, i.e., nutritional, metabolic or systemic deficiencies, or even infectious diseases.
Fingernails with transverse white lines can be a sign of arsenic poisoning. A doctor will need tissue or hair samples to test to determine the presence of arsenic in your body.
This happens when the nail plate comes apart from the nail bed, causing a white discoloration. Onycholysis can be caused by infection, trauma or certain nail products.
Other possible causes for onycholysis are psoriasis and thyroid disease.
Pitting can be seen as small depressions or pits in the fingernails, and is common in people who suffer from psoriasis, a skin condition, or in some systemic diseases.
Spooning is when the fingernails scoop outwards like spoons. Spooning is a sign of several possible diseases, e.g.:
- anaemia – iron deficiency
- heart disease
- hemochromatosis – a liver disorder
- heart disease
- lupus erythematosus – autoimmune disorder
- Raynaud’s disease – affects blood circulation
Having a dark band on the fingernail tips are called Terry’s nails. This is generally due to aging, but can also be the cause of:
- congestive heart failure
- liver disease
Yellow nail syndrome
Yellow nail syndrome can be characterised by thickening and slowed growth of the nails. The nail may even pull away from the nail bed. It affects fingernails and toenails, and can be the result of:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Lymphedema – swelling of the hands or legs or both
- Pleural effusions – fluid build-up between the chest cavity and lungs
- Respiratory illnesses
- Internal malignancies
Here are some general guidelines to maintain your nails:
- get a good nail clipper, manicure scissors and nail file
- nails, especially brittle nails, should be kept short, dry and clean
- clip nails after a bath, when nails are soft
- file nails to smoothen edges and “seal” the layers
- trim nails straight across, gently rounding at the edges
- refrain from nail biting
- moisturise nails and cuticles
- avoid long term usage of nail polish and polish removers
If you do visit nail spas, make sure the nail technicians sterilize equipment before usage.
We hope this article gives our readers some valuable insight into fingernails and the importance of maintaining them. This article should not be taken as medical advice, and readers are advised to consult their doctor for proper diagnosis, especially those with current medical issues.
28th July 19:30 2020