10 Health Warnings Your Fingernails May Be Sending

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10 Health Warnings Your Fingernails Might Be SendingGraphic design © herbshealthhappiness.com. Photo – wikipedia – lic. under GFDL

When thinking about health, people don’t usually think of nails as an important marker. However, changes in the growth, shape, texture, and color of the nails can indicate that something might be going on with your health. Nail abnormalities can be huge clues to all kinds of health conditions. Here are 10 well-established nail abnormalities and their interpretations:

1 – Clubbing
No, clubbing of the nails doesn’t involve disco lights and dancing – it’s a condition where the nails on the fingers and toes begin to grow or curve downwards, looking more like the back of a spoon – as in the image accompanying this page. The nail beds become soft to the touch and the tip of the finger bulging and red. When this happens, the oxygen levels in your body may be extremely low, usually in diseases that affect the lungs. [1]

2 – Blue color
Similar to clubbing, a bluish tinge to the nails signifies an oxygenation problem in the body. The nails appear more blue when oxygen level in the blood is too low, or if the body temperature is too cold. It could also indicate silver ingestion. [2]

3 – Slow capillary refill time
This one is interesting: The amount of time that blood fills the capillaries can be measure by applying pressure to the nail. Normal capillary refill time (CRT) is less than three seconds, and when this time is lengthened, it can signify a problem with the amount or flow of blood through the body. [3]

4 – Brittle Nails
When your nails easily chip, it can mean there is a problem with your nail bed (specifically the nail matrix where nails grow from) or the nutrients the nails need to grow. Nails are primarily made of keratin, and a diet low in protein and essential vitamins and minerals can cause nails to be brittle. [2]

5 – Onycholysis
A person with thyroid disease can have nails that are brittle and easily split from the nail bed. This also happens in psoriasis, along with damage to the entire nail. Splitting from the nail bed is called onycholysis. [2]

6 – Koilonychia
Koilonychia is a condition where the nails become thin, curved inward, and have raised ridges. This is symptomatic of iron deficiency anemia. [2]

7 – Horizontal Stripes
This one is rare, but if you’ve watched enough crime television shows, you’ll know that horizontal stripes on the nail are indicative or arsenic poisoning. These lines are called “Mees’ lines” and can appear on a single or multiple nails. [4]

8 – Splinter hemorrhages
Thin red or brown lines beneath the nail plate are classic findings in people with endocarditis. This happens when blood leaks out of capillaries in the finger, present in about 15 percent of people diagnosed with endocarditis. [4]

9 – Half-and-half nails
Nails that have a brown tinge in the distal portion (with half the nail normal or white) are seen in people with chronic kidney disease – called “half-and-half” nails. [4]

10 – White or yellow streaks
Fungal infections are often found on the toenails, manifesting as changes in the nail shape and white and yellow streaks on the side of the nail. These white and yellow streaks are often accompanied by pain, especially if there is discharge. [5] Fungal infections can also cause discoloration, brittleness and thickening / curling of the nail. Addressing this condition early is advised as it can be challenging to get rid of.

11 (apocryphal) – Half Moon Circles
This one is less well established “in the west” but sometimes considered as a health sign in the orient: In the orient the condition of the nails is more commonly used for diagnosis than in the west and their system takes into consideration more “esoteric” factors such as nail shape. One of the unexpected signals they look at is the size of the pale “half moon circle” at the base of the nail. The smaller this is, the better the person’s overall health is said to be.

Please note – as with all our posts, this is not medical advice or a recommendation to self-diagnose or self-treat. However if you notice something unusual going on with your nails, it’s a sign that warrants a check-up from a medical professional.


[1] National Institutes of Health (2015). Clubbing of the fingers or toes. https://nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003282.htm

[2] National Institutes of Health (2015). Nail abnormalities. https://nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003247.htm

[3] National Institutes of Health (2015). Capillary nail refill test. https://nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003394.htm

[4] Fawcett, R. & Linford, S. (2004). Nail Abnormalities: Clues to Systemic Disease. https://aafp.org/afp/2004/0315/p1417.html

[5] National Institutes of Health (2015). Fungal nail infection. https://nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001330.html

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