What Your Nails Say About Your Overall Health

It might be hard to believe, but your nails can say a lot about overall health. That’s why many doctors will begin an exam by looking at a patient’s hands. Here are a few ways your nails speak to your overall health:

  • Most nails have a white half-moon shape at the base, just above the cuticle, called a lunula. A change in color or size of the lunula may indicate an underlying disease such as chronic renal failure or congestive heart failure. Lunula with a blueish tint could suggest Wilson’s disease, a rare inherited genetic disorder in which copper accumulates in the liver, brain, and other organs. A red lunula may indicate heart failure. Research shows, that in patients with severe kidney disease, it’s not uncommon to see half-and-half nails, where the white from the lunula extends halfway up the nail bed, and the other half of the nail is darker in color
  • An abnormal nail shape and nail surface can also signal a health issue. For example, nails that are dimpled or pitted can point to psoriasis, a chronic skin disease. Psoriasis can also cause the nails to loosen and separate from the nail bed, as can thyroid disease.
  • Soft nails that look almost as if a spoon has scooped out the center of the nail bed can be a sign of an iron issue — either your body isn’t getting enough (iron-deficiency anemia), or it’s storing too much.
  • If you notice a dark-colored streak that runs the length of the nail, it could be melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. While rare, melanomas can appear on or around the fingernail.
  • If your nails have an indented horizontal line, that could signify that you experienced a severe illness or sustained an injury or shock to your system that caused the nails to stop growing temporarily. These lines, called Beau’s lines, may also be a marker of uncontrolled diabetes or the result of cancer treatment or exposure to cold temperatures in people with Raynaud’s disease, a rare blood vessel disorder.
  • Nails with a blue hue can be a warning sign of COVID-19, caused by low levels of oxygen in the blood. If you notice this, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Nails with a yellow discoloration can result from a few different health issues. Fungal infections can turn the nails yellow, though this is more common in toenails than fingernails. The more severe reason behind a yellow nail is a representation of someone suffering from chronic bronchitis and other lung diseases. 
  • If your nails are thin and brittle, a thyroid disorder may be to blame, or it may be that they need more moisture.

If you notice a change in your nail health, contact your local board-certified dermatologist to evaluate and determine the root cause of your concern. Find a location near you today.