How Your Nails Can Indicate Health Issues

By Isabella Sorresso
nails can indicate health issues

Whether you prefer nails that are long and painted or clean and trimmed, they can be visual tellers of your health. When there is a change, your nails can indicate health issues such as iron deficiencies, fungal infections or heart disease.

According to the Mayo Clinic, healthy nails are usually smooth, meaning they are without pits or grooves. Additionally, they are generally uniform in color and texture, free of spots and discoloration. There are many nail signs that indicate potential health issues.

Nail Color

There are multiple reasons a nail could change color, and what color it turns depends on the potential health issue behind the discoloration. If your nail bed’s healthy pink color takes on a redder hue, it could be an indication of heart disease. Another alarming sign is a darkening or brown discoloration of the nail. While the color change may just be due to a mole underneath the nail, it can also sometimes represent melanoma of the nail, which can be an aggressive cancer, said Dr. Erica Canova from Gainesville Dermatology Aesthetic Center.

“One of the signs we look for in melanoma discoloration of the nail is new and changing brown or black color of the nail bed along with color changes in the nail cuticle, which is the skin around the nail,” said Canova. She added that a white band of discoloration in the nail is seen in renal, thyroid and liver disease, and a green nail may be a sign of bacterial infection. However, small white dots on the nail could also just be a result of everyday activities or injury to the nail like nail biting or pressure from ill-fitting shoes.

Nail Shape

Nail shape can change for a variety of reasons, with some changes being more serious than others. “Pincer or tubed-shaped nails are when the nails are overly curved horizontally and are typically due to improper shoe fitting or aging changes of the nail,” Canova said. While not an alarming health indicator or issue, sometimes surgery is required to remove or reconstruct the nail to avoid pain or risk of infection.

More concerning are spoon-shaped nails, which have deep indentations in the center that can be a sign of underlying diseases such as iron deficiency anemia, Canova said. Spoon-shaped nails are more common in children and the nails will typically return to their normal shape after the underlying cause is treated.

Nail Splitting

According to the Mayo Clinic, the older the nail, the more brittle and dry it becomes. The nail may crack and split as a result, which can allow fungi to enter. Fungal nail infections are most common in adults and are characterized by thickening of the nails, white or yellow streaks, flaking or crumbling. Treatments vary for fungal nail infections with some courses being more successful than others.

“There are many myths in treating nail fungus, such as using bleach, but the most appropriate way to treat toenail fungus is with an antifungal agent,” said Canova. However, she explained most creams and gels do not penetrate the nail enough to be useful. Prescription solutions, such as Kerydin and Jublia, designed to treat nail fungus, along with oral medications like Lamisil and even laser therapy, have successfully been used to treat fungus.


Fingernails may also experience pitting, a nail issue characterized by several depressions in the surface of the nail and caused by defective development of the layers of the superficial nail plate. According to the Mayo Clinic, nail pitting is common in patients with psoriasis, a chronic skin condition that produces plaques of thickened, scaling skin. Nail pitting can also be related to connective tissue disorders, such as Reiter’s syndrome (reactive form of arthritis) or autoimmune disorders such as alopecia areata (characterized by hair loss).

Overall, changes in your nails are common and a result of life. “One of the things I tell patients, especially my older patients who complain of thinning and splitting of the nails that progress as they age, is to think of it like grey hair,” Canova said. “Nails show changes as we age just like everything else.”

Did You Know?

The Guinness Book of World record for the longest nails belongs to Shridhar Chillal with a cumulative length of 358.1 inches on one hand.


Q: Does wearing fake nails cause any harm to your real nails?

A: Artificial nails can cause chemical damage to the nails which can result in splitting and thinning of the nails.

Q:Does biting your nails cause long-term effects?

A: According to the Mayo Clinic, as long as the nail bed itself is unharmed, there is no long-term effect on nail growth.

Q: If you lose toenails from running, will they grow back?

A: Lost toenails will eventually grow back after detaching but could take up to six months.

Q: Are there any vitamins or foods that can help strengthen nails?

A: All sorts of nutrients, vitamins and minerals like iron, antioxidants, magnesium, vitamin A, protein and zinc can be beneficial in growing strong nails.

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