8 things your fingernails say about your health

Did you know that changes in the appearance of your nails could indicate certain health problems? Read on to discover eight things your fingernails could be saying about the state of your health.

By Lisa Bendall

What your fingernails say about your health
©iStockphoto.com/Moncherie
Our fingernails can offer up many clues about our health and lifestyle. That's because, just like our skin and hair, our fingernails are always growing. And when our bodies are under stress, there may be signs of it in our nails.

"There are a lot of things that can cause changes in the nail," says Dr. Scott MacLean, a family physician in Edmonton. Fingernails can develop ridges, spots, thickness, splitting and pitting. While some of these changes are nothing to be concerned about, other abnormalities can suggest underlying health problems.

Take comfort in knowing that in most cases of serious disease, you'll notice other symptoms too. "It's not super common that the nails are the only finding," says MacLean.

So what are your fingernails trying to tell you?

Yellowing, thickening and crumbling
Fingernails that are yellow or whitish, thickened and crumbling or splitting could be afflicted with a fungal infection. They often, but not always, follow a case of athlete's foot.

"Fungal infection usually affects the feet, but it can show up on hands as well," says MacLean, who adds that it's probably the most common nail change he sees in his practice. If this description sounds like your nails, ask your doctor about antifungal creams or medications.

Pain or swelling
Tender puffiness around or underneath the fingernail could be nothing more than the aftermath of a hangnail. There's no need to see a doctor unless it doesn't clear up over the next couple of days or if there are several fingers affected.

"If you've got only one nail bothering you, there's a good chance it's going to resolve on its own," says MacLean. However, an untreated infection can spread. Reduce your risk of infection by avoiding artificial nails, nail-biting and careless clipping.

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