Can Your Fingernails Tell You How Healthy You Are?

Medically Reviewed on 2/24/2022
fingernails
Your fingernails can provide hints of your overall health through their color, shape, and texture.

Fingernails can be a good indicator of your health in many cases. They can provide hints of your overall health through their color, shape, and texture.

Healthy fingernails are generally even, without pits or grooves.

Other features of healthy fingernails include:

  • Uniformly pink color
  • Consistent shape
  • Free of spots and discoloration
  • Generally, pink with a moon-shaped lunula at the base

At times, fingernails may develop harmless vertical ridges that run from the top to the bottom of the nail, which becomes more prominent with age. White lines or spots caused by injury may develop on fingernails, which may eventually grow out with the nail.

However, not all nail symptoms are normal.

Contact a physician or dermatologist if you notice the following symptoms:

  • Variations in nail color, such as discoloration of the entire nail or a dark streak under the nail
  • Separation of the nail from the surrounding skin
  • Bleeding around the nails
  • Swelling or pain around the nails
  • Stunted nail growth
  • Irregularity in nail shape, such as curled nails
  • Thickening or thinning of the nails
  • Mole under the nail
  • Brittle nails

These changes could indicate health problems that need to be addressed at the earliest.

What do changes in nail shape and texture indicate?

An irregularity in nail shape and texture could signal a health issue.

Some of the changes in nail structure and the health conditions they might indicate are presented in Table 1.

Table 1. Different types of changes in nail structure
Nail changes Medical name Diseases or health problems
Pitted nails Pitting Psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, alopecia areata, or thyroid disease
Spoon-shaped nails Koilonychia Iron-deficiency anemia, hemochromatosis, lack of proper nutrition, a health problem with the stomach or intestines, celiac disease, or high altitude
Curved nails Clubbing

It could indicate issues with the

  • Lungs
  • Heart
  • Liver
  • Stomach or intestine
Lines on the nails or dark streaks Acral lentiginous melanoma Melanoma
Nail lifting Onycholysis

Causes include

  • A fungal infection
  • Psoriasis
  • Injury from an aggressive manicure
  • Injury form cleaning under your nails with a sharp object
Redness and swelling around the nail Paronychia Bacterial infection
Washboard nails Onychotillomania Grooves and ridges in the center of the nail due to constant picking at the cuticles on your thumbnails
Gnawed nails Onychophagia Constant biting of the nails linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder
Deep grooves or gaps Beau lines Fever, injury, chemotherapy, or major stress
Ram’s horn nails Onychogryphosis Thickening and overgrowth of nails caused by psoriasis, ichthyosis, or circulation problem

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What do changes in nail color indicate?

If the nail color changes suddenly, it could indicate a more serious illness.

Some of the nail color changes and the diseases or health problems it signals are presented in Table 2.

Table 2. Different types of changes in nails color
Color of nail Disease or other health problem
Blue Not enough oxygen in your bloodstream, emphysema, or heart problems
White Liver disease, diabetes, cirrhosis, chronic renal failure, or congestive heart failure
Pale Anemia, congestive heart failure, liver disease, or malnutrition
Half pink, half white Kidney disease
Yellow Lung disease, nail infection, severe thyroid disease, diabetes or psoriasis
Dusky red half-moons Could be lupus, heart disease, alopecia areata, arthritis, dermatomyositis
Blue half-moons Could be a sign of poisoning
Greenish black color Bacterial infection

A change in the nails does not always indicate a disease; it may be due to a reaction to nail paints or medications you take. However, if you notice any of the above changes, it is better to consult a board-certified dermatologist to rule out any medical conditions.

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Medically Reviewed on 2/24/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Images

WebMD. Slideshow: What Your Nails Say About Your Health. https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/ss/slideshow-nails-and-health

American Academy of Dermatology. 12 Nail Changes a Dermatologist Should Examine. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/nail-care-secrets/basics/nail-changes-dermatologist-should-examine