Take a close look at your fingernails. Notice anything unusual? Most people don’t realize that changes in their nails can often indicate a more serious medical condition. So it’s important to know how to “read your nails.”
According to a recent article by Dr. Eleanor Roberts in Everyday Health, if your nails are healthy, they should be semi-transparent, light pink, and intact, possibly with a white lunula (“little moon”) just above the cuticle. Sometimes, individual nails may get small white lines or dots—called leukonychia—which are nothing to worry about.
But there are a wide range of other nail changes that could suggest a more serious health problem and should be examined by a physician. Everyday Health highlighted three nail conditions that may suggest illness.
- White-Nail syndrome. If your whole nail appears cloudy or white, it may indicate a wide range of possible health problems, such as heart disease, renal failure, liver cirrhosis, or rheumatoid arthritis.
- Terry’s Nails. If your nails begin to look mostly white and grainy—with a pink or red strip at the top—it could be due to decreased blood supply in the nail bed. This change in nail health, called Terry’s Nails, can be found in patients with liver cirrhosis, heart problems, malnutrition, or diabetes.
- Muehrcke’s Nails. If you notice horizontal white lines, most often in the second, third, and fourth fingernails, it may indicate abnormal blood flow to the nail bed. This condition is often a side-effect of chemotherapy, or could indicate liver disease or malnutrition.
Everyday Health’s Roberts also suggests that you look for changes in nail shape.
For more information on how to decode changes in your nails, please read the full Everyday Health story, or take a look at Mayo Clinic.com’s slideshow, “7 Nail Problems You Shouldn’t Ignore.”