What are your nails trying to tell you?

17 Things Your Nails Can Tell You About Your Health

It may not seem like it, but a person’s nails can say a lot about their health. It’s true! A closer inspection at these tiny sheets of keratin can reveal everything from lung disease to allergies. Curious how you can use your fingernails and toenails as windows into your overall wellbeing? Keep reading to discover what your nails are trying to tell you about your general physical state.

1 Your thyroid isn’t functioning properly.

Your dry, brittle nails may not be your favorite thing to look at, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), “thick, dry, and brittle with visible ridges” can be a sign of thyroid disease. So, before you focus on your aesthetic problem, be sure to rule out this serious health issue.

2 There’s something wrong with your lungs.

If you’re worried there’s something wrong with your lungs, your nails could be your first step toward figuring it out. As researchers from York Hospital in Pennsylvania wrote in a paper in American Family Physician, clubbing of the nails—in which the tips of the fingers enlarge and the nails curve downward around the fingertips—”often suggests pulmonary disease.”

3 You have inflammatory bowel disease.

Though clubbed nails can indicate a lung issue, there are other underlying conditions that can also trigger this abnormal nail growth. Per the same paper, inflammatory bowel disease can also result in clubbing of the nails, so make sure to get checked out for both bowel and lung issues if your nails are starting to look like upside-down spoons.

4 You have psoriasis.

Though psoriasis is a skin condition, your fingernail health can sometimes tell you whether or not you have it. According to the AAD, some people with psoriasis develop nail psoriasis, in which there are tiny dents in the nails and white, yellow, or brown discoloration. If left untreated, this condition can “affect people’s ability to use their hands or walk,” so don’t ignore this symptom if you notice it.

5 You have skin cancer.

Surprisingly enough, you can get melanoma under your nails. As the AAD points out, this specific type of skin cancer often manifests as “a brown or black band in the nail, often on the thumb or big toe of one’s dominant hand.” Since outcomes are better in the earlier stages of the disease, be sure to always keep an eye out for this type of discoloration.

6 There’s something wrong with your liver.

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Conditions associated with the liver—like liver cirrhosis, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C—have all been known to cause fingernail health issues. One 2010 study published in The Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology compared 100 patients with liver issues to 100 healthy subjects and found that 68 percent of subjects with liver problems had nail changes, compared to just 35 percent of those in the control group. Specifically, nail fungus was the most common issue seen in liver disease patients, followed by horizontal ridges and brittleness.

7 You have diabetes.

Over time, diabetes can cause a myriad of nail-related complications. As dermatologist Phoebe Rich, MD, wrote in a paper for Dermatologic Therapy, the blood sugar condition can lead to “nails that are yellow, thickened, and sometimes fragile, ridged, and brittle.” In addition, the doctor notes that periungual erythema—or reddening of the skin around the nails—is often “an early finding of diabetes.”

8 You’re anemic.

People who are anemic don’t have enough healthy red blood cells, and therefore their organs and tissues don’t receive enough oxygen. In addition to extreme fatigue, one of the symptoms of this condition is extremely pale nails.

9 Your kidneys aren’t working properly.

If your nails appear to be half red, pink, or brown, you could be having a problem with your kidneys. In a 2009 write-up of a chronic kidney disease case in the Canadian Medical Journal Association, doctors note that “half-and-half nail is an occasional but specific clinical finding in chronic renal failure.” As the doctors describe it, this condition is when 20 to 60 percent of the nail is “red, pink or brown the rest of the nail has a dull, whitish, ground-glass appearance.”

10 You’re having heart problems.

If your nails are blue and it’s not because of bold polish choice you made, then you might want to get your ticker checked out. As dermatologist Katherine R. Garrity, MD, explained for Aurora Health Care, blue nails can indicate heart problems, as well as lung issues, bacterial infections, and Wilson’s disease (a rare genetic disorder that causes copper to accumulate in your vital organs, according to Mayo Clinic).

11 You have a skin infection.

Are your nail folds looking a little too puffy and red? If so, you may have an infection that needs treating. “The most common cause of nail fold inflammation is a skin infection from bacteria, viruses, or yeast,” according to Garrity.

12 You’re malnourished.

Pale nails should always be noted. Why? According to Garrity, they can indicate malnutrition, in addition to other serious complications like congestive heart failure and liver disease. If you are over the age of 60, then you should pay especially close attention to your nails, as malnutrition, heart failure, and liver disease are all common issues for older individuals.

13 You have eczema.

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Pompholyx eczema is a type of eczema that, according to the National Eczema Society, is categorized by “intensely itchy water blisters mostly affecting the sides of the fingers, the palms of the hands, and the soles of feet.” And, in some cases, it can also cause swelling of the nail folds and skin around the nails.

14 You have athlete’s foot.

Athlete’s foot actually refers to two conditions: foot fungus and fungal toenail infections. The latter, which is most often picked up when walking barefoot in a communal area like a locker room, is characterized by ragged, yellow toenails.

Dermatologist Pamela Ng, MD, explained to the Mayo Clinic that in patients with immunodeficiencies, these fungal infections can cause “breakdown of the skin and lead to conditions like cellulitis or foot ulcers.”

15 You have Raynaud’s.

If you notice “indentations that run across the nails”—called Beau’s lines, according to the Mayo Clinic—you could have Raynaud’s phenomenon, a condition in which blood supply to the extremities becomes limited in the face of stress or cold.

Talk to your doctor if you notice these lines on your fingernails, because, though there is no cure for Raynaud’s, there is medication that can help restore blood flow in severe cases.

16 You’re pregnant.

“During pregnancy the growth rate of nails is increased,” Rich noted in her paper. That’s because, as The Nemours Foundation explains, all those extra hormones coursing through your veins during pregnancy impact the strength and length of your nails.

17 You have an allergy.

While many people believe that a calcium deficiency presents itself as those little white marks on your finger and toe nails, that’s not the case, according to Andrew Weil, MD, founder and director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona.

On his website, Weil explains that these marks, called leukonychia, are either a sign of an injury to the base of your nail (which could’ve happened up to six weeks prior), or they can also be the result of an allergic reaction to nail polish or nail hardeners. “It can take more than eight months for nails to grow out completely so the spots may be around for a while,” he notes. And for more things you’ve heard about your body that aren’t true, here are 40 Health Myths You Hear Every Day.

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If you ever go for a dermatologist screening, they’ll request you remove your nail polish. This is also true if you end up in surgery. Why all the hate for polish? Turns out your nails can reveal serious concerns about your health.

Darkened nails
A darkened nail can mean a few things, says Dr. Jessica Krant, MD, MPH, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and founder of Art of Dermatology. First, it could be just a natural, genetic pigmentary change, like a freckle. But if there is a dark streak along the nail from cuticle to tip and there is only one, or it is changing fast, it may mean something more ominous: melanoma of the nail, says Dr. Krant. This is a form of skin cancer and potentially deadly. Some nail fungus infections can also have dark gray or green colors, so when in doubt, see your dermatologist.

Blue nails
Blueish nails are really blueish nail beds, an implication that your fingertips are not receiving enough oxygenated blood, says Dr. Krant. This can be a sign either that your circulation is bad in your hands and feet, or that your lungs aren’t able to properly oxygenate the blood in your whole body, either due to lung disease or heart disease. If you have blue nails, other than for a few brief moment when in very cold weather, see your doctor.

White nails can mean several bad things, but the most serious thing to worry about is liver disease, says Dr. Krant.

Thin, peeling or spoon-shaped (curved concave instead of convex) nails can imply iron-deficiency anemia. This is known as koilonychia, says Dr. Krant.

If you have brittle nails that are hard but break easily, this can be a sign of dryness, or possibly hypothyroidism. Dr. Krant says this is especially true if it goes along with thinning or unusually dry hair.

Longitudinal (Vertical) Ridges
These are usually a normal finding that develops with age. “It’s a sign that the nail matrix (root of the nail under the cuticle) is drying out. Sometimes it’s possible to make it better by keeping extra heavy moisturizing emollients and ointments on the cuticles and nails,” says Dr. Krant.

Horizontal Ridges
A deep horizontal ridge with normal nail on either side usually means there was some specific trauma, high stress, illness, or other metabolic disruption for a defined period before the nail went back to growing normally, says Dr. Krant.

Separated from the Nail Bed
A nail detached from the nail bed (onycholysis) can mean nail fungus or infection under the nail, but it may also be caused by certain medications. Either way, see your doctor, says Dr. Krant.

Flattened angle at cuticle
Club-shaped fingertips with broad, flattened nails and cuticle zones are a sign of poor oxygenation of the blood. Clubbing is a common sign in cystic fibrosis in the young, but also in chronic lung disease in the elderly, says Dr. Krant.

Small Indentations or Pits
Small dots or pits in the nail may indicate psoriasis. This can be confined solely to the nails and be relatively harmless, or it may indicate a likelihood of more extensive skin psoriasis or internal psoriatic arthritis. Since psoriasis is linked to a higher risk of heart disease due to chronic inflammation, the nail pits may be a valuable flag, says Dr. Krant.

Not all thickened nails are caused by fungus, which is why it’s important to get a test before starting any risky medication or expensive treatment. Some thickened rough nails are actually caused by psoriasis in a different presentation than the previously mentioned nail pits.

It’s important to keep in mind that even with temporary nail problems that may grow out, fingernails can take six months to fully grow out and toenails up to a year. Knowing this may help you judge how long you’ve had a certain condition and may help link it to an initiating cause. When in doubt, see your dermatologist, Dr. Krant says.

Read more: Weird Things You Didn’t Know about Nail Polish

Why Are My Toenails Yellow?

Healthy nails are usually clear in color and don’t have any major issues like cracks, indentations, ridges, or abnormal shapes. If your toenails are turning yellow, it could be a result of something less serious, like aging or nail polish. Or it could be due to a more serious issue, like an infection.


Aging can be a natural cause of yellow toenails and fingernails. As people grow older, the color, thickness, and shape of their nails tends to change. Aging individuals will often have a more yellow color to their nails.

Nail polish

If you paint your nails frequently with nail polish that’s red or orange in color, your nails can also be discolored as a result of the polish. Taking a break from painting your nails should make the yellow go away.

Medical condition

Having yellow toenails isn’t dangerous by itself. However, if the cause for the yellow toenails is an underlying medical condition, it may be a sign that something is wrong. For example, yellow toenails can be caused by an infection, fungus, or medical disorder.

In rare cases, yellow toenails can actually be a sign of a disorder called yellow nail syndrome (YNS). Doctors don’t know what exactly causes YNS, but people who have it have yellow, curved, thickened nails that grow slowly, along with other symptoms like respiratory problems. Their nails also may have ridges or indentations in them and can also turn black or green.

Go see your doctor if your nails also have any of the following:

  • change in shape or thickness
  • any bleeding
  • discharge
  • pain
  • swelling


One of the most common causes of yellow toenails in an infection by a fungus that attacks the nails. This is called onychomycosis, and it happens more in adults than children. It can lead the nail to turn yellow, have yellow spots, white patches, or even turn black.

The fungal infection is caused most often by dermatophytes, which eat keratin to grow. Keratin is found in skin and nails. According to American Family Physician, onychomycosis occurs in about 10 percent of the adult population, and the risk of getting it increases with age. About halfof people over the age of 70 get the fungal infection.

Some people are more prone to getting yellow toenails or catching a fungal infection. If you have a medical condition that causes poor blood circulation in the legs, like diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, or other autoimmune disorders, you’re more prone to foot disorders in general.

Athletes or people who spend a lot of time in hot or moist conditions are also more prone to getting a foot infection.

Fingernails Are a Window to Your Health

November 18, 2011

Dear Mayo Clinic:

I have heard that a person’s fingernails reveal a lot about their health. Is there any truth to that? What types of changes would indicate health problems?

It’s true. Your fingernails are a window to your health. Some nail changes are natural. But others can signal health concerns, especially changes in nail color and growth patterns.

Your nails are part of your skin. They are made up of layers of the protein keratin and grow from beneath the base of the nail under your cuticle. As new cells grow, older cells become hard and compacted and are eventually pushed out toward your fingertips.

Healthy nails are smooth, without ridges, grooves, spots or discoloration. Nails can develop harmless conditions, such as vertical ridges that run from the cuticle to the tip of the nail. Vertical ridges often become more prominent with age. Nails can also develop white lines or spots as a result of injury, but these grow out with the nail and do not cause problems.

In some cases, a change in your nails may be caused by stress in your body. For example, if you have a high fever, a serious injury or infection, or another severe illness, your nails may stop growing for a while. That’s because, due to the extra demands placed on it, your body shifts energy away from the low priority of growing nails. When your nails start growing again, you may notice horizontal lines across your nails. These are called Beau’s lines, and they show where the nail growth stopped temporarily. Beau’s lines grow out eventually and are not a cause for concern.

There are a number of nail changes, though, that can signal an underlying medical problem. A change in your nail color requires attention, especially if your nails start to turn yellow or red or if stripes or dots of color appear on your nails. Color changes could be the result of a nail fungus or, in some cases, they may be a sign of skin cancer. Conditions like liver failure and kidney problems can also change your nail color, turning nails white or yellow at the tips or near the cuticles. Yellow nails can be the result of a respiratory condition, such as chronic bronchitis, as well.

Clubbing of your nails — when your nails curve much more than usual — is often a sign of low oxygen levels in the blood and may be related to lung disease. Clubbing can also be the result of heart disease, liver problems or inflammatory bowel disease. Another nail condition, called spoon nails or koilonychia, involves nails growing in a pattern that looks like a ski jump. Spoon nails can be a sign of iron deficiency anemia.

Other nail changes that could be a cause for concern include dimpling, indentations, splitting or pitting of your nails. Any of these changes could point to one of dozens of skin disorders that can affect the nails. For example, psoriasis, a common skin disease that causes skin cells to rapidly build up; lichen planus, an inflammatory condition that can affect your skin; and dermatitis, another inflammatory skin disorder, can all show up in your nails.

This is just a sampling of the most common conditions that may have an impact on your nails. Overall, there are hundreds of medical conditions, disorders and diseases that may cause nail changes. So if your nails change or start to look abnormal, talk to your doctor or see a dermatologist to investigate the underlying cause and find out if any treatment is needed.

— Dawn Davis, M.D., Dermatology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.

12 Disease Signs — Found On Our Fingernails

You’ve likely had a health care provider check your blood pressure, pulse or listen to your heart. They can give indications about your overall health.

Here’s another health indicator that you may not be familiar with: Your fingernails! Changes in their appearance can be an indicator of a range of conditions.

If you notice a change in your fingernails, don’t panic. Just contact your health care provider and describe the change you see. Your provider can give you a recommendation for next steps.

Here are 12 disease symptoms that can show up on your fingernails:

White Nails

Your fingernails will naturally have white at the tips. However, if your whole nail is white or noticeably pale, this could be a sign of:

  • Liver disease such as hepatitis
  • Low protein stores in the body (hypoalbuminemia)
  • Kidney failure
  • Congestive heart failure (rare)
  • Diabetes (rare)

Pale Nails

This can be a sign of a serious illness such as:

  • Anemia
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Liver disease
  • Malnutrition

Yellow Nails

Nails often turn yellow after nail polish has been used for long periods of time. However, yellow nails can also be a sign of:

  • Fungal infection
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Lung disease (rare)
  • Diabetes (rare)
  • Psoriasis (rare)
  • Thyroid disease (rare)

Blue Nails

If your fingernails have a blue tint, this could be a sign that your body isn’t getting enough oxygen. It could also be a side effect from a drug you are taking, or a sign of:

  • Lung issues (such as emphysema)
  • Heart problems
  • Excessive silver consumption
  • Bacterial infection of the nail
  • Wilson’s disease (a genetic condition that causes high levels of copper in the body)

Red Streaks in the Nail

This may be the result of several conditions, including:

  • Trauma
  • Psoriasis
  • Fungal infection
  • Heart valve infection
  • Blood vessel inflammation (vasculitis)

Dark Lines Beneath the Nail

If you notice dark lines that are about as wide as a pen’s ink cartridge, this could be a sign of melanoma. This is a dangerous type of skin cancer. If you notice this, see your health care provider promptly.

Other causes of dark lines beneath the nail are more common and not dangerous. These include moles, trauma and medication induced changes. It’s also common for people with darker skin types to have noncancerous dark lines under the nails.

Split or Cracked Nails

If your nails become brittle or if they split repeatedly, this could reveal:

  • Thyroid disease
  • Psoriasis
  • Repeated trauma, especially frequent contact with water (e.g. hand washing, dish washing, bathing, etc.)
  • Medication side effects

When the cracking or splitting is accompanied by a yellow color, the cause could be a fungal infection.

Nail Clubbing

This happens when the tips of your fingers enlarge a little and the nails curve over the fingertips. This usually takes years to happen. This could be a sign:

  • Lung disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Cardiovascular disease (heart disease)
  • Liver disease
  • Thyroid disease

Puffy, Red Nail Fold

The nail fold is the skin at the base of the nail where your nail grows from; it’s often called the cuticle. If your nail fold is puffy, this is due to inflammation. The most common cause of nail fold inflammation is a skin infection from bacteria, viruses or yeast. Less commonly, this can happen because of lupus or other connective tissue disorders.

Ridges on the Nails

The direction of the ridges is important to notice. If ridges are parallel to your fingers, it may simply be a reflection of aging or chronic trauma, including repeat wet/dry cycles and contact with water. Ridges may reflect a lack of vitamins or poor nutrition.

If the ridges are across the nail, this could be a sign of:

  • Diabetes
  • Severe injury
  • Past illness or medication exposure

Rippled or Pitted Nails

Small pinpoint depressions of the surface of the nail often occur after trauma to the surface of the nail. Sometimes they occur in patients with particular types of hair loss and arthritis. They can also be associated with underlying skin disorders including:

  • Psoriasis
  • Eczema

Nail Lifting

This is when the surface of the nail (called the nail plate) separates from the underlying skin (called the nail bed). There are many causes of this including:

  • Medication side effects
  • Psoriasis
  • Fungal infection
  • Trauma
  • Pregnancy
  • Thyroid disease

Your Next Steps

If you notice one of these conditions on your fingernails, see your health care provider. Your provider can give you guidance about additional steps that may be needed to make an accurate diagnosis.

Get more helpful health news on the Aurora Health Care Facebook page!

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The white spots on nail you notice are not caused by a calcium deficiency. These white spots in fingernails are called “leukonychia” and are very common. Most of the time the white spots simply are a sign of some past injury to the matrix (base) of your nails. By the time the white spot shows up (about six weeks after the injury) you’ve probably forgotten all about banging or knocking your fingers. Sometimes, the injury can stem from a manicure that put excessive pressure on the base of the nails. White fingernail spots also can be a sign of an allergic reaction to nail polish or nail hardeners and, sometimes, are a symptom of a mild infection.

Whatever the cause, white spots on fingernails are temporary and will grow out as your nails grow. However, it can take more than eight months for nails to grow out completely so the spots may be around for a while.

Sometimes, a change in the appearance of your nails does indicate an underlying disease, but these changes would be more dramatic than just the occasional white spot. Nails that turn completely white, for example, can indicate liver disease, but by the time this happens, you probably would have other symptoms.

Incidentally, in addition to the myth that white spots in fingernails are a sign of calcium deficiency, you may also have heard that they indicate a zinc deficiency. That isn’t true either. Neither is the well known but bizarre notion that the spots are due to eating too much Hellmann’s mayonnaise (I’m not making this up).

Andrew Weil, M.D.

White Spots on Nails

If you have ever noticed white spots or streaks on your nails, you may have been told they were caused by a vitamin deficiency. However, that probably isn’t the case. Vitamin deficiencies take a long time to manifest symptoms, and those symptoms typically include pale or yellowish skin, a swollen red tongue, weight loss, and diarrhea. You might also feel confused, dizzy, tired, or weak.

So if white spots on your nails are not typically a sign of vitamin deficiencies, what causes them? Should you want to learn more about what causes white spots on your nails, just ask FastMed. Our online medical library can provide you with information on various medical conditions, including conditions that affect the nails.

What Causes White Spots on Your Nails?

The white spots on your nails are probably due to an injury you sustained months ago. As your nail grows out, white spots can show up in places where you injured the nail or nailbed. The injury doesn’t have to be major, or even noticeable. Simply hitting your fingernail against the edge of something, like your car or a table, can cause white spots on your nails to appear. Sometimes white spots on your nails can be a sign of an infection or allergic response to something.

There are some cases where white spots on your nails indicate that you have a vitamin deficiency. Eczema and psoriasis can cause white spots on the nails, and they are often due to lack of zinc.

Getting Rid Of White Spots On Your Nails

If the white spots on your nails are caused by an injury, the only way to get rid of them is to let them grow out. If you suspect that the white spots are caused by a zinc deficiency, try to incorporate more zinc into your diet, or you may contact a medical professional for advice.

If you would like to be seen by a physician for white spots on your nails, or any other nail problems, visit FastMed Urgent Care. Our mission is to provide our patients with fast, high-quality personal care–all at an affordable cost.

We may earn a commission for products purchased through some links in this article.

Whether you like your nails covered in weird and wonderful mani designs, are ga-ga for geometric patterns or prefer sleek and elegant nail colours like the Queen, strong and healthy nails are important for pulling off any fancy finger look.

And a common problem that can pop up every now and then is white spots. So what causes these mystery ailments? We asked OPI Ambassador, Jenni Draper, for the low down…

What causes white spots on nails?

It’s not a lack of calcium or zinc as you may have suspected. White spots are mostly caused by trauma to the nail.

Whether you’ve accidentally bumped your nail bed or suffered a small chip, “this will then trap air between the nail layers creating a bubble, which in time, will grow out”, says Jenni.

“The other cause can be from dehydration of the nail, particularly of gel polish or polish wearers.”

Can you file or buff white spots away?

While you can do this, Jenni advises against it as “over-buffing will cause other problems in the long-run.”

If trauma is the cause and it started deep within the nail, you’ll have to buff too many layers to truly wipe out the white, effectively weakening the nail more.

Are there any products that will remove white spots?

If your white spots are caused by trauma to the nail, you’ll just have to wait until it grow out.

However, “if it’s from the use of gel or polish, then try gentle buffing and cuticle oil, like the OPI ProSpa Nail & Cuticle Oil (£17) to protect and prevent”, says Jenni.

In fact, cuticle oil is the best way to prevent white spots appearing on the nails in the first place as it will hydrate and strengthen the nail.

“A good hydrating base coat will also help and should definitely be applied before polishing nails.”

What about food for stronger nail growth?

When it comes to diet, white spots are not linked to what we eat, but you can certainly grow stronger nails with a balanced diet.

Yvonne Bishop Weston, a Harley Street Nutritionist, recommends proteins such as fish, nuts, seeds and beans, which will help to promote keratin, the main nail protein.

White spots, be gone!

Neat nails with a modern twist: Here are the very best nail art designs to try

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