"Just like the eyes are the window to the soul, so are the nails," says Tamara Lior, MD, a dermatologist with Cleveland Clinic Florida. To the trained health professionals, nail changes can provide valuable clues to certain health problems. Warning signs for many other conditions, from hepatitis to heart disease, may also appear in the nails, according to Joshua Fox, MD, director of Advanced Dermatology and a spokesman for the American Academy of Dermatology. "Changes in the nails can be a sign of a local disease like a fungus infection or a sign of a systemic disease like lupus or anemia," Fox tells WebMD. How to read the signs.
What healthy nails should look like
Healthy nails are smooth, without grooves or ridges. They're uniform in color and free of discoloration. A healthy nail bed should look pink and the nail plate (the most visible part of the nail) should be strong, lustrous and flexible.
What to look out for:
1. Nail Color Changes
Green, Discolored Nails
These are likely to be caused by fungal infections. Other signs to look for are nail brittleness and thickening of the nails.
Nails with a chronic bluish tinge are due to cyanosis -- poor circulation or the lack of oxygen in the blood supply. Common causes of cyanosis include asthma, heart and lung disorders, congenital heart disease and blood cell disorder. If the nails only turn blue during times when you are feeling cold, it signifies malnutrition and the need to put on weight.
Thick, yellow nails may simply be the result of staining caused by nail polish, or due to nicotine from cigarette smoke, or the result of long-term use of the antibiotic tetracycline (commonly prescribed to treat acne). They could also suggest more serious causes such as respiratory condition, especially if the nails are thickened and new growth slows.
Pale or White Nails
Nails that are pale that the base and dark red or brown at the free edge may suggest chronic liver disease or renal failure.
Specks, spots or bands of white in the nail are common with minor injury. These will usually go away on their own without any treatment.
What to look out for:
2. Nail Structure Changes
Brittle, Concave Nails
Spoon nails that are concave in appearance signify anemia (iron deficiency). Nails that chip, peel, crack, or break easily show general nutritional deficiency such as deficiency in iron, calcium, zinc, protein, or vitamins A, B and C and minerals.
Clubbing is the thickening and enlargement of the fingertips with rounded, downward-curled nail tips. Clubbed nails signify decreased blood oxygen in your blood and coud be a sign of chronic lung disease. Clubbing is also linked to liver disease and inflammatory bowel disease.
Vertical Nail Ridges
Nail ridges that run from the cuticle to the tip of the nail are fairly common, and are likely to be hereditary. Though not a cause for concern, they often become more numerous as you age.
Horizontal Nail Ridges
Horizontal nail ridgings and white lines are usually caused by mild injuries or overzealous manicuring, though in very rare cases these may indicate arsenic poisoning or an acute illness.
The presence of small depressions on the nail surface are common in people with psoriasis, a skin condition that produces scaly patches. They may also result from nail injury.
Am I must to worry if i have any nail changes?
Common causes of nail problems include infection, trauma and various skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis. If you are generally in good health and present no other tell-tale symptoms, the nail conditions are probably nothing to worry about. If you are concerned, however, make an appointment with your doctor to get it checked out.
Tips for Strong, Healthy Nails
There are following tips how to strengthen your nails, avoid infections, and improve their appearance:
Keep your nails clean and dry.
Avoid nail-biting or picking.
Apply moisturizer to your nails and cuticles every day. Creams with urea, phospholipids, or lactic acid can help prevent cracking.
File your nails in one direction and round the tip slightly, rather than filing to a point.
Don't remove the cuticles or clean too deeply under your nails, which can lead to infection.
Don't dig out ingrown toenails. See a dermatologist if they become bothersome.
Avoid nail polish removers that contain acetone or formaldehyde.
Bring your own instruments if you get frequent manicures.
If you have artificial nails, check regularly for green discoloration (a sign of bacterial infection).
Eat a balanced diet and take vitamins containing biotin.
Finally, ask your doctor to take a look at your nails during your next checkup. Fox says this is becoming more routine "because the nails offer such a unique window into the health of our bodies."