For most of us, our nails are hardly world-record worthy, although they still have an important role to play: They protect tissues, scratch itches and act as windows to our overall well-being. They also offer warning signs of malnutrition, infection and serious disease.
Every disease has its signature symptoms. For example,thyroid disorders (like hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism) are most often associated with weight loss and weight gain, respectively. However, doctors frequently link up nail changes with thyroid diseases, too. The problem isn’t so black and white when it comes to white nails. If your fingernail beds are looking a little ghostly, you may have anemia, a blood disorder characterized by a low red blood cell count.
Thyroid hormone is like your metabolic throttle. Without it, your metabolism comes to a screeching halt. Low thyroid can affect everything from your head to your toes.
Horizontal lines and brittle nails may indicate that you need a thyroid work-up. Low thyroid also makes tearing nails very easy, which isn’t uncommon at all for thyroid patients.
Think you need your thyroid checked? See your doctor for laboratory testing. We suggest testing for TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) and the two forms of thyroid hormone – T4 and T3. Make sure your doctor checks the following: total T4, free T4, and free T3.
Ridges in your nails can also be warning signs of a vitamin B12 problem. Diet, age, and drugs are all common culprits behind a B12 deficiency. Since meat is the primary source of vitamin B12 for most of us, strict vegetarians are at a higher risk for a B12 deficiency.
However, a diet that includes meat doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you won’t be B12 deficient. Some elderly people, for example, eat large amounts of meat but are still B12 deficient because they don’t have enough intrinsic factor — a protein that’s necessary for B12 absorption.
With yellow nail syndrome, nails thicken and new growth slows. This results in a yellowish discoloration of the nails. Nails affected by yellow nail syndrome might lack a cuticle and detach from the nail bed in places. Yellow nail syndrome is often a sign of respiratory disease, such as chronic bronchitis. Yellow nail syndrome can also be related to swelling of the hands (lymphedema).
Nail pitting is small depressions in the nails. Nail pitting is most common in people who have psoriasis — a condition characterized by scaly patches on the skin. Nail pitting can also be related to connective tissue disorders, such as Reiter’s syndrome, and alopecia areata — an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss.
More seriously, pale nails could also be a sign of early diabetes or liver disease, both of which can lead to impaired blood flow.
Biting your nails may be nothing more than an old habit, but in some cases it’s a sign of persistent anxiety that could benefit from treatment. Nail biting or picking has also been linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder. If you can’t stop, it’s worth discussing with your doctor.
Nails Are Only Part of the Puzzle
Though nail changes accompany many conditions, these changes are rarely the first sign. And many nail abnormalities are harmless and not everyone with white nails has hepatitis. If you’re concerned about the appearance of your nails, see your family physician.
While nothing replaces a visit to your physician for a proper diagnosis, checking your fingernails for the following abnormalities can help you spot early warning signs. If you are a registered patients of Welling Clinic, do visit us to know more or if you are one our international patients contact your personal online consultant at Welling Clinic.