5 things your fingernails say about your health that you can’t ignore

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If you have brittle, prone-to-breakage or yellowing nails, it could be more than just a damper to your manicure routine. Instead, they could be tell-tale signs of health disorders that you could otherwise miss. According to general physician Dr Aradhana Panda, “The process of general examination of a patient starts as soon as he walks into your clinic. Inspecting the nails is one of the steps that could alert the doctor towards specific findings to help make diagnosis. Discolouration or any kind of marks, abnormal shape of the nail bed, the smoothness and strength of the nails are few of the things we’re looking out for.” We reached out to Dr Panda and Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, director of MedLinks, about common nail concerns and what they could mean.

1) If your nails are looking yellower than usual

Resist the temptation to camouflage your yellow nails with a coat of polish. Let your nails be polish-free for a couple of weeks. “Yellow nails are the most commonly seen in people wearing nail lacquer for prolonged periods of time. It is also seen in chronic smokers. Sometimes, yellow nails can also be age-related,” says Dr Panda.

2) If you’re seeing horizontal lines across your nails

Horizontal depressions that run across your fingernail are called Beau’s lines. “These can be a sign of malnourishment, especially indicative of zinc deficiency. Other conditions that cause Beau’s lines are diseases that cause a high fever, diseases of the blood vessels, pneumonia and diabetes,” explains Dr Chaturvedi. You’ll want to get a blood test done and reach out to your doctor to find out the cause.

“A dark stripe on a nail is indicative of an injury that has caused blood vessel damage under the nail bed. However, if there are black lines seen on most of the nails, then it could be a sign of skin cancer or a heart infection (endocarditis),” warns Dr Panda.

3) If your nails look clubbed

When there is low oxygen blood saturation over a prolonged period of time, it can cause the tips of the fingers to enlarge, giving the appearance of rounded clubs, explains Dr Panda. “Clubbing of nails are seen in people with lung disorders. Clubbed nails are also indicative of gastrointestinal diseases like ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, liver cirrhosis and certain types of malignancies,” she adds.

4) If your tips are scooping outward

Koilonychia or ‘spoon nails’ occurs when your fingernails have raised ridges and scoop outward like spoons. According to Dr Chaturvedi, sometimes the nail is curved enough to hold a drop of liquid. This condition is a tell-tale sign of iron deficiency (anaemia) and heart diseases. Iron supplements help to ease this. “Spooning of nails could also be a sign that you have hemochromatosis, a liver disorder that causes too much iron to be absorbed from food, or lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation. In some cases, hypothyroidism and Raynaud’s disease (a condition that limits your blood circulation) can also lead to spooning,” informs Dr Chaturvedi.

5) If your nails are dry, weak or cracked

Brittle, thin nails are often caused by nutritional deficiencies, particularly that of proteins and biotin. Sometimes, stress can also lead to brittle nails as there is malabsorption of nutrients by the body under duress, says Dr Panda. A diet rich in iron, Vitamin B-complex, calcium and protein are essential for healthy nails.