Medical Minute 6-14: Finger Nails: Window to Your Health

By: Vanessa Welch Email
By: Vanessa Welch Email

42-year-old Alex Hewett is a mother of two boys, an actress and an impeccable dresser.

"I just think that you've been given this vessel and your body you need to take care of it and polishing your nails is just like having your shoes polished," said Alex Hewett.

Alex gets manicures and pedicures twice a month. In between, she often does her nails herself and doesn't always like what she sees.

"When I take off my nail polish, I tend to have yellowish discoloration."

Nails can provide valuable information about a person's health. Yellowish nails can sometimes signal lung problems, half white, half pink nails could be a sign of kidney disease. Red nail beds - heart disease. Pale or white nail beds - anemia.

"You normally don't have color in your nail, but if you notice abnormal color on your nail, it can be a sign of something more serious like cancer."

While dark, long, uniform bands are common among people with darker complexions, when melanoma is present it often shows up as a pigment change at the cuticle. If your nails separate from the nail bed it could indicate the skin condition psoriasis.

"My fingernails were brittle. No matter what I would do, they would look terrible," said Karan Powell.

57-year old Karan Powell's dry nails and broken cuticles didn't get better until she got treated for an adrenal gland disorder.

"By taking the calcium and various vitamins my nails are super strong."

And for the first time in years, Karan says she feels good too.

For more information on other series produced by Ivanhoe Broadcast News contact John Cherry at (407) 691-1500,


BACKGROUND: Your toenails and fingernails protect the tissues of your toes and fingers. They are made up of layers of a hardened protein called keratin, which is also in your hair and skin. Your nails' health can be a clue to your overall health. Healthy nails are usually smooth and consistent in color. Specific types of nail discoloration and changes in growth rate can signal various lung, heart, kidney and liver diseases, as well as diabetes and anemia. White spots and vertical ridges are harmless. (Source: Some of the most often reported nail problems are also among the most bothersome aesthetically and emotionally, even though many of them are not medically serious. Others, such as yellow nail may be caused by a serious underlying disease. (Source:

Here are some examples:
• Brittle nails. Brittle nails are one of the most common complaints. They are generally characterized by vertical splitting or separation of the nail plate at the end of the nail. This is often a consequence of aging as the flow of moisture and natural oils to the nail bed declines.
• Ingrown toenail. Ingrown toenails typically affect the great (“big”) toe and occur when a corner of the nail curves downward into the skin. This condition can be very painful and lead to infection. Ingrown toenails are usually caused by improper nail trimming, poor posture, or tight shoes. Nails should always be cut longer than the tips of the toe to prevent the advancing edge of the nail plate from “digging in” to the soft tissue of the nail folds.
• White nails (Terry’s nails). This nail abnormality is characterized by a white nail bed with a pink band that is one to two mm wide at the tip. In most cases, all the fingernails are affected, although it can affect a single finger. White nails affects about 80 percent of people who have severe liver disease (Fawcett RS et al 2004). It is also seen in people with type 2 diabetes, chronic renal failure, or congestive heart failure and is associated with advancing age as well (Dolan C et al 2004).

MAINTENANCE: To maintain healthy fingernails, avoid infections, and improve nail appearance, try the following tips:

• 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.
• 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.

For More Information, Contact:

Dan Collins
Media Relations
Mercy Medical Center

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