What do your nails say about you? Key signs can reveal clues to your general health
We may often look beyond our bruised, torn, or pitted nails.
But these can be warning signs of severe conditions, including arthritis, infections and, in extreme cases, cancer.
DailyMail.com spoke to two dermatologists about the clues in your nails that might not be harmless.
Nails can be a “canary in the coal mine” for a serious problem in the body, said Dr. Shari Lipner, of Cornell University in New York City.
“It is essential that people check their nails themselves once a month, in addition to relying on dermatologists,” she said.
The graphic above shows six nail changes that can indicate a serious problem in the body. They include red streaks that indicate a heart infection, bruises that may actually be cancerous, and pitting in the nails that could warn of a person developing arthritis in the future.
Dr. Shari Lipner, a dermatologist at Cornell University in New York City, and Dr. Kristin Ko, a dermatologist at Yale University School of Medicine in Connecticut, tell DailyMail.com about the little-known warning signs that appear on nails.
Nail bruises are usually caused by injuries such as slamming your nails into a door. But in very rare cases, the bruise does not go away over time, which indicates that it may be cancerous
Are your bruised nails a sign of cancer?
Many of us end up with bruises under our nails and don’t think about anything.
But if you have a disease that does not go away, there is a very small chance that it is a sign of cancer.
When skin cancer occurs under the nails — medically called subungual melanoma — it creates a black or dark-colored spot that won’t go away.
“People usually remember the trauma that causes bruising under the nails,” Dr. Kristin Koo, a dermatologist at Yale University School of Medicine in Connecticut, told DailyMail.com.
But if you think you’re doing nothing to the nail and if the color is spreading under the nail, that’s usually a bad sign.
And then also as the nail grows, the ingrown nail usually also grows under the nail, so you’ll see the natural color come back near your skin over time.
“But for melanoma, a skin cancer, even with time, the natural nail color doesn’t show through.”
Skin cancers under the nail can also appear as a single dark line across the nail — like a band — that won’t go away. Sometimes patients mistake these marks for a streak of paint or an ink mark.
Skin cancers under the nails are relatively rare, accounting for up to three percent of all skin cancer cases annually reported in the United States.
When found early, it is highly treatable.
Red or brown streaks can also appear under the nails, which dermatologists say could be warning signs of a heart infection.
Red streaks may be an early sign of a heart infection
Some people end up with red streaks on their nails, which look like faint red or brown streaks on part of the nail.
These are usually the result of nail injuries, but are worth keeping an eye on.
Doctors warn that these could be the first warning sign of a life-threatening heart condition called bacterial endocarditis, in which microorganisms infect the heart valves.
Dr Lipner told DailyMail.com: “Systematic insults [issues affecting the entire body] It can cause small red to brown streaks in the nail and bleeding from capillaries in the nail bed.
This can be due to trauma, but it can also be a sign of a heart condition called bacterial endocarditis.
This is a heart infection.
If left untreated, it can definitely affect the nails. It is not uncommon for nails to be the first clue.
Infection occurs when bacteria or other germs enter the bloodstream and travel to the heart.
They can then attack the heart valves and cause inflammation of the inner lining of the organ, making it less able to pump blood around the body.
Although nail symptoms may be missing, most patients notice other routine warning signs.
These include chest pain while breathing, shortness of breath, and joint and muscle pain.
Figures show that there are about 47,000 cases of endocarditis in the United States each year.
Dermatologists say that pitting, cracking, or pulling nails can be an early warning sign of arthritis. Psoriasis usually affects the skin, but in some cases it can only affect the nails
Arched nails associated with arthritis
Pitting, lifting, or cracking of the nails is often thought to be due to a bacterial or fungal infection.
But dermatologists say this may also, in some cases, be an early warning sign of arthritis.
The skin can suffer from psoriasis, which is thought to be caused by the immune system triggering inflammation that causes the skin to become dry and scaly.
About 40 percent of people with psoriasis also have arthritis, and it rises to 80 percent when psoriasis extends to the nails.
Dr Lipner said: ‘Psoriasis is an inflammatory disease that is commonly thought of as having red plaques on their knees and elbows.
But what people don’t know is that nails can be affected on their own without the skin.
It is a very difficult diagnosis for many doctors.
You will often see these small indentations called pitting, nail lifting, dandruff under the nail, and cracking.
She added, “When you get nail psoriasis, there is a high chance that you will also develop joint disease, psoriatic arthritis which can hurt joints and alert you to arthritis which definitely needs to be treated properly.”
About 7.5 million Americans have psoriasis.
In some cases, nail changes can appear years before arthritis, according to a study published in the journal Arthritis rheumatism;.
Doctors say that ingrown toenails can be a natural sign of aging. But it could also be a sign of irritation caused by excessive washing
lines? You can wash your hands more often
Lines, or vertical ridges, on the nails, which look a bit like little thin lines, are something many of us notice later in life.
In fact, Dr. Ko told DailyMail.com that this was one of the main reasons patients visited her clinic.
But while the condition — known as siezfreakia — is a normal sign of aging, it can also indicate too much hand-washing or the overuse of hand sanitizer.
Over-washing can cause excessive dryness of the skin and strip away healthy oils and bacteria that protect against infection.
Dr Koo told DailyMail.com: “What happens is that the nail grows irregularly along its length, being thicker in some areas and thinner in others in a wavy pattern, [causing the ridges].
“It’s usually just an age-related change, around the late 40s or so.”
But, she added, it can also be a sign of too much hand washing, with nail surface irritation from harsh soaps leading to bumps.
She added, “Using too much hand sanitizer gel will also cause the nails to become more brittle and appear more wrinkled, as has happened with my nails.”
Hand washing and sanitizers became a mainstay for many bars, restaurants and offices during the Covid pandemic, as people feared catching the virus.
They are still ubiquitous in many businesses today, but using them too often can be dangerous on the hands.
Having brittle nails that crack, crack, or split easily can be a warning sign of malnutrition
Brittle nails indicate a poor diet
As nails become more softened, they may become more brittle, making them more likely to crack and peel.
Experts say this can likewise be a sign of problems stemming from poor diet – such as an iron deficiency.
‘A very bad diet, like anorexia or not eating anything, leads to brittle nails that don’t go well,’ said Dr. Ko.
“[But] In the developed western world with a reasonable diet, it would not have this kind of effect on nails in general.
He added, “To get around that, I ask people if they usually eat well.
“I also tell them to take biotin and a multivitamin if they feel anxious, it won’t harm them but it will ensure they get enough.”
The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD) says that brittle nails can also be a sign of a thyroid problem.
In this condition, the thyroid gland no longer produces enough of its hormone for the body resulting in the symptoms most Americans notice, including fatigue, sensitivity to cold, weight gain, constipation, and depression.
This decrease can also lead to slower nail growth and brittle nails, the college said.
The presence of jagged nails can be a warning sign of a lung problem
Jagged nails can indicate a lung problem
Paramedics say having ingrown toenails can be a warning sign that the lungs or heart are not working properly.
A lack of oxygen in the blood supply or problems with circulation can cause blood to pool more in the extremities of the body, such as the fingertips.
This causes them to swell and cause the nails to curve on the sides of the fingers – or ingrown toenails.
The Mount Sinai Medical System says lung cancer is the most common cause of toenail infection.
But it can also be caused by a heart defect in the body, a lung infection such as bronchitis or a lung abscess affecting an organ.
However, many Americans with lung cancer or infection are likely to notice the other symptoms.
These include a cough that gets worse over time, chest pain, shortness of breath, and coughing up blood.
Although nail clubbing is a symptom, it occurs in only about five to 15 percent of people with lung cancer, according to a study in National Library of Medicine.
One in 16 Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer in their lifetime, with approximately 130,000 people dying from the disease annually.