Fingernails Sound the Alarm for Health Concerns

People often look for more apparent symptoms of underlying health conditions like aches, pains, or bruises. But the fingernails can also serve as a sign that something might be wrong. Healthy nails should be smooth without discoloration. While deviations from the above aren’t automatically an indicator of an underlying problem, talking with a healthcare provider about any concerns is recommended.

center for family medicine What Can Your Fingernails Tell You About Your Health Questions To Ask Your Doctor

White spots on the nails

For many people, a vitamin deficiency isn’t uncommon, especially if nutrient-dense foods are lacking in a daily diet. But for anyone that’s not getting enough zinc or calcium, a typical sign is white spots on the nails. Those white spots can begin appearing as soon as middle school age. However, an easy fix can be as simple as taking a zinc supplement of 30mg per day.

Pitted nails and skin health

The surface of the fingernails should be smooth. But for people with pitted nails, like dents in the nails, a trip to the doctor should be a priority. Often pitted nails are a sign of psoriasis, a skin condition that’s usually associated with scaly, red patches on various areas of the body. Speaking with a physician can help to confirm and treat the condition early.

Clubbed nails

Clubbed nails are one of the more obvious nail conditions that should cause even the most laid back person to call a physician immediately. With clubbed nails, the nail softens to the point of eventually bending over the end of the fingertip. So, on a side profile, the nails look curved and may slightly cover the fingertip. Sometimes clubbed fingernails are hereditary. Lung cancer is most frequently associated with clubbed fingernails, but several other conditions such as lung or heart infections could also be at play.

Spooned nails and iron deficiency

Most people associate iron deficiency with anemia and dizziness. But another telltale sign of low iron can be seen in the nails. Spooned nails are exactly as imagined: nails that are concave with the edges of the nails pushing outwards rather than hugging the finger as normal. Even though iron deficiency is usually the culprit, other factors such as heart disease or hypothyroidism could be causing the nail deformity.

When discoloration isn’t normal

Most people find discolored nails unsightly. But not all discoloration is a sign of a severe health condition. Yellowish fingernails are the most common color change and are often the result of an infection or contact with an irritating product like nail polish. But in some instances, yellow nails can indicate diabetes, psoriasis, or even a thyroid condition.

Pay attention to those nails

Not every nail-related change is a sign of a serious underlying condition. Often, simple factors like managing stress, improving diet, or getting adequate rest can correct more common nail issues like discoloration, dry or brittle texture, or even thin or peeling nails. However, more serious physical deformities in the nails that significantly change the shape or thickness can be a sign that a person should contact a healthcare provider.