Monday, August 6, 2012

Toenails a Sign of Overall Health

It's toenail polish season and everyone wants to color their nails in the latest trends. But did you know that your toenails, as well as your fingernails, are a way to determine your overall health? Changes that are going on in the body that may be invisible often show in our nails. There are nine clues your nails give about your health:
  1. Black line. A straight, vertical, black, discolored line on your nail that is increasing or growing wider at the lower part of the nail. Look for skin below the nail that is darkly pigmented as well. This may be a sign of melanoma, the deadliest of cancers. Those with darker skin are more susceptible to this type of cancer than those with fairer skin. Have your podiatrist take a biopsy of the affected tissue. It could be a simple nail injury or a mole. 
  2. Red vertical lines. Red or brown streaks in the nail are known as splinter hemorrhages because they look like splinters. It may mean heart trouble, because the splinters are caused by tiny clots that damage the small capillaries beneath the nail. This is associated with a condition of the heart known as endocarditis. Not all splinters mean heart problems though, as a nail injury may cause them as well. There is no treatment for the splinter hemorrhages themselves, but your doctor will have to find the underlying problem.
  3. Clubbed, wide nails. Widened toenails that look like they bulge out from the toe and curve down and wrap around the toe like an upside down spoon are called clubbed nails. Clubbed nails are a common sign of lung problems. The nail's odd shape develops over months or even years and can be a symptom of lung cancer. If you're having shortness of breath our coughing fits, consider getting a physical exam. 
  4. Dips in the nail. Nail beds that have dips in them are an effect called spooning. The nails are usually very pale, and stay whitish for more than a minute after you press on them. The moons at the base of the nail look extremely white as well. This could be a sign of an iron deficiency anemia. Spooning can also be seen in those who have an iron overload disease, a condition caused by a defective gene that leads to too much iron being absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. Other symptoms for both conditions include fatigue and lack of energy. A blood count will diagnose anemia and a physical exam will determine the exact cause of the iron problem. Iron supplements and dietary changes will be prescribed.
  5. Pitted and rippled nails. Tiny indentations or holes in the nail bed are known as pits. The nails will also appear to be rippled rather than smooth. Between 10 to 50 percent of people with this abnormality have psoriasis. Three-fourths of people with psoriatic arthritis, along with those with Reiter's syndrome and other diseases of the connective tissue have pitted nails. Your doctor will prescribe medications that treat the underlying condition. 
  6. Brittle nails. Nails that easily peel, split, or crack may be a sign of thyroid disease. Metabolic functions throughout the body are disrupted, which includes the delivery of moisture to the nails. Pale, dry skin, and hair that may fall out are other signs. Hyperthyroid diseases, like Grave's disease, may cause brittle nails. Get your thyroid levels checked. 
  7. Nails that are lifting off. When the nails appear to be separating from the nail bed, it's called onycholysis, and typically affects the fingernails, but can affect the toes as well. It's more commonly known as Plummer's nails, named as such after the physician Stanley Plummer in 1918, or dirty nails because debris will accumulate. It can mean you have some kind of thyroid disease. Hyperthyroidism can produce excessive nail growth. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include fatigue, difficulty concentrating, increase appetite, weight loss, sweating, hair loss, itching, and protruding eyes.
  8. Horizontal depressions running across the nail. White ridges running across the width of the nail bed, are called "Beau's lines" after the French physician who discovered them. They can occur in all nails, or just one nail. If they are in all nails, they will appear in the same location on each nail. They are actual ridges in the nail. It may mean several different things: diabetes, Raynaud's disease, psoriasis, or just trauma to the nail. Drugs used in chemotherapy may trigger this phenomenon. Doctors will measure how far from the nail bed the ridges are and will use this to help determine the source.
  9. White bands running across the nails horizontally. White colored bands, known as Mees lines, run parallel to the white tips of the nail. You may see the lines in one nail or all nails and it will appear in the same spot on each nail. It may mean arsenic poisoning! Avoid eating anything you haven't prepared yourself and have your hair and tissues sampled. 
If you have a nail problem, call one of our six locations to make an appointment.
Connecticut Foot Care Centers
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