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What Your Nails Say About Your Health

When I look down at my fingernails, my first thought is, "I need a mani!" Turns out that unsightly nails could actually be a warning sign of more serious health problems inside the body.

Here's what to look out for:

Spooning (Koilonychia): Nails are actually shaped like spoons, resulting from a transverse and longitudinal concavity of the nail.

  • May affect all 10 fingernails
  • Spooning can be a sign of iron deficiency anemia. If your nails show signs of spooning, have your doctor check your blood count and iron level. Many patients with spooning do not realize they are anemic.

Pitting: Punctuated depressions and holes develop in the nail plate.

  • Pitting can be a sign of psoriasis and/or alopecia areata (a form of hair loss that occurs in round patches).
  • The pitting may precede the onset of either condition.

What if you have yellow nails or thick cuticles? Then

Yellow nails: Nail color will appear in shades ranging from pale yellow to orange. It can involve all 20 nails.

  • Sufferers may also notice a reduction in nail growth (less than .2mm per week).
  • Yellow nails can be a sign of respiratory/lung disorders, including sinus infections, an enlarged upper lung tube or fluid surrounding the lungs.

Clubbing: A thickening of the soft tissue beneath the cuticle area.

  • Nail plate will enlarge and curve excessively, appearing like a knot has developed beneath the nail.
  • Clubbing can be a sign of many lung/cardiac problems inside the body, including (but not limited to) congenital heart disease, cystic fibrosis and tuberculosis.
  • If your nails develop clubbing, you should contact your doctor to schedule a checkup.

Terry’s nails: Entire nail will appear white with the exception of a 1-2mm band at the top of the nail.

  • All nails are uniformly involved. Terry’s nails are a common sign of liver cirrhosis, occurring in up to 82 percent of patients. Condition is frequently seen in chronic congestive heart failure and adult-onset diabetes mellitus.


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