It is easy to assume that your nails serve only a few purposes – to look good, to help you open things, or to scratch. You can brush, trim and paint, but are you looking at your nails – their color, thickness, or texture?
If you do not have one, you may want to. The condition of your nails can give you clues about a variety of health problems – such as anemia and skin cancer. Regularly looking after your nails is one way to keep an eye on your health. If you notice signs of something wrong, you will know it is time to talk to your doctor.
Here are five tips to look out for in your phones that can reveal important information about your health.
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Yellow or Thickness: Fungus
Your nails should be a nice pink shade on the nail bed, turning white clean as they grow towards your fingers. But if your nails look yellow or thick, you may have a mold growing on the underside.
Fungus is a disease that occurs because micro-organisms grow under your nails. While this usually does not cause pain, it may be invisible and embarrassing due to the appearance of your nails.
“Fungal infections are usually diagnosed by physical examination. Depending on the severity of the illness, treatment usually includes prescription or over-the-counter medications. Sometimes, to treat the fungus, you will have to remove the nail.
Strong Nails: Anemia or Thyroid Disease
Apart from irritation and sometimes invisible, broken nails can be a sign of something more. Although degeneration may develop as part of aging, if your nails appear to be cracked for no apparent reason, this may be a sign of anemia.
Anemia is a condition in which your body does not have enough hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen from your lungs to your entire body. Although fatigue is a common symptom of anemia, the condition can manifest itself on broken or spoon-shaped nails – called koilonychia. A blood test can tell if you have anemia or not.
The leading cause of anemia is iron deficiency which can be easily treated by taking iron supplements and making dietary supplements to increase the amount of iron-rich foods. Lean meats, beans, spinach, and raisins are excellent sources of iron.
Strong nails can also be a sign of thyroid disorders – which means your thyroid gland produces too many or too few thyroid hormones. These tyrosine-based hormones help control your body, which is how your body converts the food you eat into energy. If your nails fall off your nail bed, it may also indicate thyroid disease. Thyroid disease can be diagnosed by blood tests, and treatment may include dietary intake or dietary supplementation, as well as hormone replacement therapy or surgery.
Pitting and Grooving: Psoriasis or Alopecia Areata
Nails usually have to be smooth. However, small cracks and stress on your nails – known as “pitting” – can be a sign of psoriasis. Psoriasis is a skin disease that causes spots on itchy, painful, or red skin, and often has silver scars. Your nails may collapse, loosen, or fall out.
Since hair and nails are closely related, this may also be a sign of alopecia areata (hair loss), which is a medical condition in which you lose hair spots. There are usually no other symptoms of alopecia other than its effect on your hair and scalp.
“Both of these conditions usually require a physical examination to check for symptoms in other parts of your body,” said Drs. Vlachos. He goes on to explain, “The treatment of psoriasis includes phototherapy with ultraviolet light, as well as portable or oral medications. Treating alopecia areata may involve the use of steroid injections, medication, or ultraviolet light therapy.
Black lines: Melanoma
Even if you are diligent in checking your skin for dark spots and other symptoms of melanoma – a type of skin cancer – you may forget to check your nails. Melanoma can appear as a black streak under your nails, distorting its color. Sometimes it will darken the cuticle around your nail, too, which can be a sign of aggressive melanoma. Melanoma is life-threatening, so it is important to get rid of any dark spots under the nails. Diagnosis may include physical examination and biopsy, and treatment of melanoma may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.
White Stripes: Kidney Disease or Liver Disorders
White lines under your nails may be a sign of kidney disease or liver problems. Both of these problems can change the color of your nails due to the formation of impure products on your body. Your kidneys and liver should remove what your body does not need, but when it is not working properly, white lines may form under your nail bed.
“A blood test can help determine if your liver and kidneys are functioning properly,”. Treatment of kidney or liver disease may include medication, dialysis to help remove excess waste from the body, or, in extreme cases, organ transplants. “