What Your Nails Can Say About You

Healthy fingernails and toenails are smooth and evenly colored.  We don’t really pay much attention to our nails unless something is wrong, or we are going for a manicure or pedicure.  But our nails can tell us a lot about ourselves.  Paying attention to our nails can give us a clue when it comes to disease, deficiencies, and overall health problems.  Here are some nail abnormalities to watch for.

Horizontal Ridges (Beau’s Lines)


Often to be confused with nail ridging, Beau’s Lines are horizontal depression, or notches, on the nail.  It can be seen in fingernails, thumbs, toenails, or all nails.  These lines are caused by diseases that affect the entire body.  It can be a sign of lack of zinc or for a more serious condition like a disease.  Diseases like malnutrition, heart attack (myocardial infarction), liver diseases, mumps, measles, pneumonia, other severe infections, and metabolic disturbances like in poorly controlled diabetes.  Chemotherapy drugs for cancer can also cause Beau’s Lines.  Other conditions such as arsenic poisoning, carbon monoxide poisoning, and malaria are associated with horizontal ridges in the nails.


clubbing nails

Nail clubbing is an increased curvature of the nail plate as a result of a variety of causes.  Digital clubbing results from a low-level of oxygen in the blood and could be a sign of several types of lung disease, bronchiectasis, and mesothelioma. Digital clubbing is also associated with inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, liver disease and AIDS.

Spooning Nails (Koilonychia)

Spooning toenails.jpg

The spooning of nails, also known as Koilonychia, are soft nails that have a curved spoon-like shape.  The depression is usually large enough for a drop of liquid to fit in.  Spoon nails are a sign of iron deficiency anemia or hemochromatosis, a condition of the liver which the body absorbs too much iron from food.  Spoon nails can also be associated with heart disease and hypothyroidism.

White Spots (Leukonychia)


White spots on the nail could be signs of iron deficiency, liver cirrhosis, kidney disease, heart failure, diabetes, zinc deficiency, hyperthyroidism, psoriasis, eczema, chemotherapy treatment, lead and arsenic poisoning, and even common nail injuries.  Nail injuries from nail products, such as having acrylic nails.  However, there are many types of leukonychia.  It can vary from total nail plate being white to spots of white on the nail plate.

Mee’s Lines

mee's lines

Mee’s Lines are usually white lines that appear longitudinal on the fingernail or toenail.  Mee’s Lines appear usually after arsenic poisoning, thallium, or other heavy metals but are also common after chemotherapy treatments.



Onycholysis is a condition where the nails can become loose and easily come off at the base of the nail.  The separated part of the nail becomes opaque, with a white, yellow or green color to it.  This condition can be associated with injuries, infections, and a reaction to a drug or consumer product.  Thyroid disease and psoriasis can also be the cause of nail detachment.

Pitting or Rippled Nails

pitting nails

The nail surface can appear rippled or multiple dents in the nail, even a discoloration of the nail.  The skin under the nail can seem reddish-brown.  This can be an early sign of psoriasis, eczema, connective tissue disorders, or inflammatory arthritis.  However, drugs such as antibiotics, oral contraceptives, and chemotherapy medicines have also been known to cause nail pitting.  Inadequate nutrients intake such as calcium, minerals, and proteins can be associated with pitted nails.  This is also common among children under the age of 12.

White Nails With a Strip of Pink (Terry’s Nails)


Terry’s nail is a disorder where the nails are mostly white except for a narrow band of pink on the top.  For the most part, Terry’s nails can be associated with aging.  However, it can also be a sign of more serious conditions such as liver disease, congestive heart failure, kidney failure, or diabetes.

Yellow Nail Syndrome

yellow nails

Nails can become thick, the growth of the nail is slowed, and can even become detached from the nail bed, causing a yellow discoloration of the nails known as Yellow Nail Syndrome.  Generally, this is a sign of respiratory disease like chronic bronchitis but is also associated with the swelling of the hands (lymphedema).

Pale Nails


Special thanks to knozzle for photo


Pale nails can sometimes be a sign of anemia, congestive heart failure, liver disease, and malnutrition.

Bluish Nails


Special thanks to scarysymptoms for photo


Nails with a bluish tint can mean that the body is not getting enough oxygen.  It can be an indication of a lung problem, like emphysema, as well as possible heart problems.

Cracked or Split Nails


cracked nails
Special thanks to howtocure for photo


Activities such as swimming or washing dishes can cause dry, cracked or brittle nails.  Nails also exposed to chemicals like nail polish remover and cleaning products can weaken nails, making them dry and cracked.  However, this can also be a sign of fungal infection or hypothyroidism.  Brittle nails are associated with vitamin A, C, B and iron deficiencies.

Puffy Nail Fold (Paronychia)


Paronychia may be a result of a bacterial, fungal, or viral pathogen.  This can occur 3 times as likely in women than in men.  The infection is caused most likely by injury or stress.  picking off loose nails, tearing nail from the nail bed, or forcefully removing a hangnail can cause paronychia.  There are many types of paronychia.  The skin becomes red, swollen, and painful when there is an infection around the nails.

Dark Lines Beneath Nails


Dark lines beneath the finger or toenails are known as splinter hemorrhages.  These are small areas of bleeding under the fingernail or toenail.  Common causes are due to bacterial endocarditis and injury to the nail.

Gnawed Nails

gnawed nails

Gnawed nails are a sign of frequent nail-biting and can appear rough and jagged in appearance.  This can also be a sign of a more serious psychological condition such as OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).


Changes in your nail appearance can be a warning sign that something is wrong with your health.   Speaking with your doctor to determine if you have a serious medical problem is important and what would be your best course of treatment.














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