Many medical conditions can affect the shape or texture of the fingernails. Brittleness of the nails, meaning that the nails easily become cracked, chipped, split, or peeled, can be observed as a sign of aging or in response to the long-term use of nail polish or exposure to moist conditions (including frequent swimming or dishwashing). Some diseases are also associated with changes in the nails, which can include brittleness. Thin and brittle nails can be a sign of hypothyroidism, for example. The term onychoschizia refers to splitting of the fingernails as well as brittle or soft nails. Taking biotin (a vitamin) supplements can help in some cases of brittle nails, and application of moisturizers after soaking in water can also be of benefit.
Other causes of brittle nails
- Chemical/Toxin Exposure
- Long-Term Use of Nail Polish and Polish Remover
- Low Humidity Environment
- Nail-Patella Syndrome
- Prolonged Exposure to Water
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.Next Article
IMAGESBrowse our medical image collection of allergic skin disorders such as psoriasis and dermatitis and more caused by allergies See Images
Pictures, Images, Illustrations & Quizzes
Foot Problems: Why Are My Toenails That Color?
What can the color of your toenails tell you about your health? Watch for these shades to know if you need to talk to your doctor.
Nail Color and Texture: What Nails Say About Your Health
Nails may be a sign of disease in the body. Nails of abnormal color (pale, white, yellow, or bluish) may relate to an internal...
Picture of Fingernail Anatomy
A fingernail is produced by living skin cells in the finger. See a picture of Fingernail Anatomy and learn more about the health...
Picture of Nail-Patella Syndrome
This entity, also known as hereditary osteo-onychodysplasia, is a genetic disease linked to a mutation in the gene encoding...
Causes of Brittle Nails
Anemia is the condition of having less than the normal number of red blood cells or less than the normal quantity of hemoglobin in the blood. The oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood is, therefore, decreased. There are several types of anemia such as iron deficiency anemia (the most common type), sickle cell anemia, vitamin B12 anemia, pernicious anemia, and aplastic anemia. Symptoms of anemia may include fatigue, malaise, hair loss, palpitations, menstruation, and medications. Treatment for anemia includes treating the underlying cause for the condition. Iron supplements, vitamin B12 injections, and certain medications may also be necessary.
Eczema refers to skin inflammation. There are many different types of eczema that produce symptoms and signs that range from oozing blisters to crusty plaques of skin. Treatment varies depending upon the type of eczema the person has.
Fungal nails (onychomycosis) may be caused by many species of fungi, but the most common is Trichophyton rubrum. Distal subungal onychomycosis starts as a discolored area at the nail's corner and slowly spread toward the cuticle. In proximal subungal onychomycosis, the infection starts at the cuticle and spreads toward the nail tip. Yeast onychomycosis is caused by Candida and may be the most common cause of fungal fingernail.
Hypothyroidism is any state in which thyroid hormone production is below normal. Normally, the rate of thyroid hormone production is controlled by the brain by the pituitary gland. Hypothyroidism is a very common condition and the symptoms of hypothyroidism are often subtle, but may include, constipation, memory loss, hair loss, and depression. There are a variety of causes of hypothyroidism, and treatment depends on the cause.
Iron is a mineral our bodies need. Iron deficiency is a condition resulting from not enough iron in the body. It is the most common nutritional deficiency and the leading cause in the US. Iron deficiency is caused due to increased iron deficiency from diseases, nutritional deficiency, or blood loss and the body's inability to intake or absorb iron. Children, teen girls, pregnant women, and babies are at most risk for developing iron deficiency. Symptoms of iron deficiency include feeling weak and tired, decreased work or school performance, slow social development, difficulty maintaining body temperature, decreased immune function, and an inflamed tongue. Blood tests can confirm an iron deficiency in an individual. Treatment depends on the cause of the deficiency. Proper diet that includes recommended daily allowances of iron may prevent some cases of iron deficiency.
Lichen planus is a common skin disease that features small, itchy pink or purple spots on the arms or legs. the abnormal areas on the skin in lichen planus are typically flat-topped (hence the term planus), itchy, and frequently have a polygonal or angular shape.
Psoriasis is a long-term skin condition that may cause large plaques of red, raised skin, flakes of dry skin, and skin scales. There are several types of psoriasis, including psoriasis vulgaris, guttate psoriasis, inverse psoriasis, and pustular psoriasis. Symptoms vary depending on the type of psoriasis the patient has. Treatment of psoriasis may include creams, lotions, oral medications, injections and infusions of biologics, and light therapy. There is no cure for psoriasis.
Sjögren's syndrome is an autoimmune disease involving the abnormal production of extra antibodies that attack the glands and connective tissue. Sjögren's syndrome with gland inflammation (resulting dry eyes and mouth, etc.) that is not associated with another connective tissue disease is referred to as primary Sjögren's syndrome. Sjögren's syndrome that is also associated with a connective tissue disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, or scleroderma, is referred to as secondary Sjögren's syndrome. Though there is no cure for Sjögren's syndrome, the symptoms may be treated by using lubricating eye ointments, drinking plenty of water, humidifying the air, and using glycerin swabs. Medications are also available to treat dry eye and dry mouth.