What Your Nails Say About Your Health (cont.)
He says he sometimes tries to guess if a person has anemia by looking at his or her nails. He explains that pale, whitish nail beds may indicate a low red blood cell count consistent with anemia.
An iron deficiency can cause the nail bed to be thin and concave and have raised ridges.
While most of Fox's patients don't come in to report nail problems, he often checks their nails anyway. "The nails offer many little clues to what's going on inside you. Lupus patients get quirky, angular blood vessels in their nail folds. Psoriasis starts in the nails up to 10% of the time" and causes splitting and pitting of the nail bed.
Heart disease can turn the nail beds red. Obsessive-compulsive disorder can show up in the nails through persistent nail-biting or picking, Fox says.
Even common disorders like thyroid disease can cause abnormities in the nail beds, producing dry, brittle nails that crack and split easily.
He lists the following 10 examples of nail changes that could indicate a serious medical condition.
'Rarely the First Clue'
But can a doctor truly detect undiagnosed heart disease or kidney problems by looking at your nails? American College of Physicians spokeswoman Christine Laine, MD, MPH, says it's not likely. She doesn't dispute the connection between nails and disease, but she cautions, "Nail changes are rarely the first clue of serious illness. In most instances, patients will manifest other signs or symptoms of disease before nail changes become evident. For example, it would be unusual that nail clubbing was the first thing a patient with emphysema noticed. Breathing difficulty probably would have been present already."