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8 ways your nails may be warning you about your health

Most of us don’t spend lots of time thinking about our fingernails. That is, until we notice something unusual or wrong going on with them. That’s when we may find ourselves asking, “Why do my nails look like that?” From discolorations to malformations, splits, cracks or other damage, the state of your nails can indicate a lot. Some nail conditions are perfectly benign, but other nail health might be warning signs of serious, even fatal, illnesses. So read on to learn what your nails may be telling you about your health, and speak to your doctor if you have cause for concern.

Why are my nails yellow?

Yellowing common and have many possible causes, some benign and some serious. Nail yellowing could be stains from nail polish, acrylics or smoking cigarettes. Nail fungus is a common condition that can cause the yellowing and thickening of nails. But yellowing can also result from systemic health problems  like diabetes, liver disease or thyroid conditions.

Why are my fingernails cracking or splitting?

Dry, cracked or split nails commonly are stressed and damaged by the same things that cause dry or cracked skin, and the solution can be as simple as using moisturizer or a nutritional supplement designed to promote healthy nails. However, nail splitting, cracking or crumbling can also indicate a most serious underlying condition, like thyroid disease, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Speak to your doctor if you don’t respond to over-the-counter treatment.

Why are my nails white or pale?

The medical term for white spots or patches on fingernails is leukonychia. It’s a very common condition, and usually benign according to dermatologist Dr. Jessica Krant. However, pale or white nails can also result from a variety of health conditions including diabetes, liver disease, thyroid problems, a low red blood cell count or simply malnutrition.

What are these ridges?

If you’ve noticed a ridge or ridges on your nails, it actually makes a big difference if the ridges are horizontal or vertical. Vertical nail ridges, which typical extend the length the nail, are totally normal, according Mayo Clinic dermatologist Dr. Lawrence Gibson, and “often become more numerous or prominent with age, possibly due to variations in cell turnover within your nail.” However, Dr. Gibson says horizontal ridges, called Beau’s lines, are more serious, and could indicate an underlying medical condition. Beau’s lines may also appear as grooves or indentations instead of ridges.

Why are my nails blue?

Cyanosis is the medical term for an abnormal bluish coloring of the skin. According to dermatologist Dr. Shari Lipner, cyanosis of the fingernails commonly results from a lack of oxygen, which could indicate lung disease, heart disease, asthma, pneumonia or poor circulation. Much less commonly, blue skin and nails are symptoms of argyia, a skin condition that can result from toxic exposure to silver.

Why are my nails spoon shaped?

“Spoon nails” is the common term for a medical condition called koilonychia. Nails with this disease become soft and thin and take on an alarming concave shape, bending upward at the edges like a spoon or a scoop. Most commonly, iron deficiency anemia is what causes koilonychia. And according to the Mayo Clinic iron deficiency anemia comes from any number of a variety of causes, including malnutrition, celiac disease, internal bleeding or even cancer.

What are these dark lines on my nails?

Dark or black nails are commonly caused by bleeding or blood clots, usually following an injury. In other words, a bruise. And if that happens, you’ll probably know what caused it. But if you’re seeing dark browning or blackish bands on your fingernails that you can’t explain, consult a physician ASAP. Darkly discolored nails could indicate melanoma, aka skin cancer. And, according to dermatologist Dr. John Anthony, Hispanic, Asian and Black patients may be more likely than others to see dark nail stripes when melanoma is present.

Why do I have clubbing?

Nail clubbing or finger clubbing is a deformity that presents as bulging fingernails caused by swelling underneath the nails. This is a condition you shouldn’t ignore. Nail clubbing is usually a symptom of a number of serious underlying health problems according to WebMD, including heart disease, heart failure, lung cancer or other lung disease, thyroid disease, kidney disease, liver cirrhosis or other disorders. Sometimes, nail clubbing is genetic and not related to health problems, but that’s rare.