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Fingernails and Health Conditions: What's the Connection?

Medically reviewed by Elfred Landas, MD · General Practitioner · Maxicare Primary Care Center

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Sep 08, 2021

Fingernails and Health Conditions: What's the Connection?

When you go to the clinic for a regular check-up, the doctor or the nurse will assess your vital signs. They will check your temperature, blood pressure, breathing, and pulse rate. If needed, they will also record your height and weight. You do not see them typically checking your fingernails, but they do! Why? Because our fingernails and health conditions are deeply connected.

Fingernails and Health Conditions: The Appearance of Healthy Nails

It is important to understand how fingernails and health conditions are connected. But first, what does a normal fingernail look like? The appearance of fingernails, indeed, differs from person to person, but there are commonalities. Generally, fingernails should be:

  • Pinkish. They do not have to be really pink. Most of the time they are pale pink. This indicates that you have healthy blood flow underneath the nail (nail bed). If you put pressure on the nail, the pinkish tinge will disappear but should return immediately after pressure is released.
  • Smooth. When you feel the surface of your fingernails, you should not notice bumps or pits (indentations). You may find vertical lines, but they are light and almost unnoticeable unless you look closely.
  • Strong. Your fingernails must not break easily, unless of course with applied force. Brittle nails are not normal. If they are weak, it may be a cause of concern.

Color Changes in Fingernails and Health Conditions Associated to Them

Changes in appearance of fingernails can point to other underlying health conditions. What do they mean?

White Nails or Terry’s Nails

It is normal to see white fingernail tips. But if the entire nail has turned white, it may signify another health condition. To better notice this, look at the lunula of your nail. The lunula is the crescent-shaped part at the base of the nail. If the lunula is indistinguishable because the entire nail is white, this should raise concern. The following conditions can cause white nails:

  • Liver disorder, like hepatitis
  • Kidney problems, even kidney failure
  • Low levels of protein in the body
  • Rarely, congestive heart failure

Yellow Nails

Do not panic if your nails turn yellow after removing the nail polish. That’s normal. Smoking can also cause yellowing of the nails. However, this particular change in the fingernails may mean you have:

  • A fungal infection
  • Thyroid disease
  • Psoriasis (often, yellow-red tinge)

Pale Nails

It is important to know how certain changes in fingernails and health conditions manifest as these underlying conditions may be prevented. If the pinkish tinge is replaced by paleness, check for the following conditions:

  • Malnutrition
  • Anemia
  • Liver disease
  • Congestive heart failure

Blue Nails

People who undergo surgery are often asked to remove their nail polish. This is because the doctors and nurses need to see if the nails will turn blue during the operation. Blue nails often mean a lack of oxygen supply. However, they may also suggest:

  • Lung disorders, like emphysema
  • Heart problems
  • Silver poisoning
  • Bacterial infection

Additionally, certain chemicals may turn the nails blue, like those used to remove paint and clean metal. Medications can also result in bluish nails. These medications include anti-malarial drugs and those that regulate the heartbeat.

Dark Lines

Another reason why you must know about the changes in fingernails and health conditions associated with them is because the underlying condition may be serious. For instance, if there is a dark line – often a thick one – on your nail, go to your doctor immediately. Dark lines can be a symptom of melanoma, a serious kind of skin cancer. However, there could also be other reasons for this change in the fingernails:

  • Mole
  • Trauma to the fingers
  • Result of medication

Fingernails and health conditions

Texture Changes in Fingernails and What They Mean

Rippled Nails

Rippled nails look like there are tiny holes on the nail. Sometimes, this is also called nail pitting. While not life-threatening, this change in the fingernails may indicate:

  • Psoriasis
  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Eczema
  • Split or Cracked Nails

    A split or cracked nail may be due to different reasons. Aging can cause brittle nails. Other than this, split or cracked nails may mean:

    • Repeated trauma to the fingers
    • Side-effect of medications
    • Certain nutrient deficiency
    • Fungal infection (when accompanied by yellowing)
    • Thyroid disease
    • Psoriasis

    Development of Ridges

    While almost-invisible lines are normal, developing highly noticeable ridges or grooves is not. One example of a ridge that should cause concern is called Beau’s lines. They look like deep, horizontal indentations across the nail. They could mean:

    • Uncontrolled diabetes
    • Peripheral vascular disease
    • Diseases associated with high fever, like scarlet fever, mumps, and measles
    • Other systemic diseases

    Other Changes in Fingernails and Health Conditions Associated to Them

    Puffy Nail Fold

    The nail fold is the skin around the edges of your nails. If they become red and puffy, it may mean there is an infection in the area. However, do not panic right away, especially if you only see it on one nail. This could only mean that it has experienced trauma. The puffy nail fold is also common for those who often get their hands soaked.

    Nail Clubbing

    Nail clubbing happens when the nail looks larger than normal and the edge curves over the fingertips. The enlargement happens over the years. Clubbing could mean the presence of:

    • Lung disease
    • Cardiovascular disease
    • Inflammatory bowel disease
    • Liver disorders
    • HIV/AIDS

    Spoon Nails

    From the name itself, spoon nails look like the edges are lifted, causing an indentation that is wide enough to hold a drop of liquid. Spoon nails could indicate that a person has:

    • Hemochromatosis; a condition wherein the body absorbs too much calcium from the diet
    • Heart disease
    • Hypothyroidism

    Nail Separation or Nail Lifting

    You can notice nail separation when the nail lifts off of the nail bed. There are various reasons for this condition. They include:

    • Injury
    • Infection
    • Reaction to medication or product
    • Thyroid disease
    • Psoriasis

    Key Takeaways

    Our fingernails and health conditions are, indeed, connected. However, our nails can only indicate certain conditions, but not confirm them.

    Learn more about Healthy Lifestyles, here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Elfred Landas, MD

    General Practitioner · Maxicare Primary Care Center

    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Sep 08, 2021

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