What your nails are saying about your health
Did you know the appearance of your nails can be signaling greater health issues like liver and kidney disease, anemia, lung and heart conditions, diabetes and even cancer? While most fingernail and toenail problems are minor, others may betray more serious conditions.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) nails often reflect our general state of health. Nail problems make up about 10 percent of all dermatological conditions. Melanoma, a dangerous form of skin cancer, is one of the more serious skin problems that can be associated with nails, according to the AAD.
“Although rare, melanoma can grow underneath the nail,” says Dr. Sandra McGowan, a family medicine physician with Advocate Medical Group and on staff at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill. “The cancerous melanoma can appear as a dark streak in the nail, and if the dark streak does not improve or it continues to increase overtime, a biopsy of the nail should be done.”
Dr. McGowan says that discolored nails can also indicate infection, but when this discoloration is coupled with symptoms such as feeling tired, frequent urination and extreme thirst it could be a sign of diabetes. Diabetes can cause the nail to discolor, turning it yellow, she says.
She also says to notice if your nails turn white.
“Nails that turn completely white can be a sign of liver disease,” Dr. McGowan adds. “This can indicate a low red blood cell count that is consistent with anemia, which can cause fatigue, shortness of breath and chest pain.
If the skin underneath your nail is red, it can be an indicator of heart disease, she says. The coloring can represent issues with blood flow and circulation.
“Nail issues tend to be more prevalent as we age,” Dr. McGowan says. “However it is important to monitor nail changes no matter what age you are. Know how your healthy nails should appear and the difference between normal and abnormal for you.”
Dr. McGowan stresses the importance of noting changes overtime such as nail color, shape and texture. She says to report your concerns to a physician, especially if they are accompanied by other changes in your health.
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health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.